Lauren may already be familiar to some of Maman’s readers thanks to her reminiscences about spankings she received both at home and at school. Now, she shares some observations from the ‘other side of the knee’, as she remembers bringing up her own two daughters.
Thanks to your stories, we already know quite a bit about your own upbringing. But when you were young, were you aware of other children being spanked? Was spanking you discussed with your peers or something you in fact ever witnessed outside your own family? How did your own upbringing influence the choices when it came to disciplining your own children?
I grew up in the 1980s in western New York state. In the neighbourhood I grew up in, spanking was common for kids and up until a certain age (I would say until middle school), it was a common topic of conversation. I knew who got spanked, what they got them with and even whether it was done bare bottom.
I am the oldest of four, with a younger sis and two younger brothers, all spanked into our mid-teens, the majority of them from Mom. I saw my siblings spanked several times and also a set of cousins (my mom’s sister’s kids).
I married my high school sweetheart right after graduation and we moved into an apartment over my in-laws’ garage. I had my first daughter when I was 19 and my second at 21. My mother-in-law ran a tight ship and while we lived there, I saw her spank my husband’s two youngest sisters (who were 11 and 9 when I moved in) several times with the wooden spoon or the belt. Eventually, she trusted me enough to watch them when she was working and gave me permission to spank if I needed to, which I did a couple of times to both. However, I didn’t really think at all about discipline with my kids until they were pre-school age.
I was actually determined that I was not going to be a spanker – not because of any resentment I had toward my parents and their methods, but because I thought I could make “positive parenting” work. I gave my girls their first spankings when they were eight and six. As I said, I came to it late because I thought I could use other methods and be more affirmative.
However, around the time of their first spankings, my husband had been called up from the reserves to active duty overseas, leaving me as a single parent for about a year.
My sister had been in an auto accident and was staying with me while she recovered. I think I was overcompensating for the absence of my husband and feeling like I was ‘the bad guy’ all the time, so I was overly indulgent and permissive.
My sis confronted me one day and told me what no one else would (although this was apparently a common sentiment within the family): my kids were obnoxious brats who lacked serious boundaries and discipline. At first I was hurt and angry (and didn’t speak to her for a few days) – but after some careful reflection, I came to realise the ugly truth.
I reconsidered my approach to discipline and decided to introduce spanking as one of the tools. I had a heart-to-heart with the girls and told them that we needed to change some of their behaviour, and that from now on, if they disobeyed or were not respectful, they ran the risk of a spanking. I told them what my mom used to do to me when I didn’t listen, or fibbed or was rude. Spanking as a concept was not foreign to them, but they seemed sort of confused that it might now happen to them.
A couple of weeks later, they got into some of my sister’s things and wound up breaking her digital camera (it wound up at the bottom of our aquarium – to this day, neither of them will own up to it). Since neither would admit the crime, I told them they were both getting a spanking.
I had not really thought through procedure or what I would do if I had to spank, but I knew I did not want all the elaborate rituals that my mom used to make the whole thing an ordeal. I picked an oversize wooden cooking spoon that was in a jar on a counter in the kitchen and led my oldest to the room she shared with her sister.
I made her pull down her pants and I gave her a little lecture so she understood why she was being spanked. Then I had her over my knee and gave her eight sharp swats – one for each year of age – on her bare bum. She didn’t cry or fuss but gave me the crossest of looks when she got up, which reminded me of myself at that age.
I brought the youngest in next and repeated the procedure. She was very different – I had crying and apologies even before she was over my knee and when I had finished, she got up and in tears threw her arms around me and said ‘I’m sorry’ about 50 times. Although I knew I had done what was for the best, I felt terrible seeing her reaction and I was torn up about it for a good bit.
I won’t say that episode had a ‘magic wand’ effect but I did notice an incremental change in the behaviour of both girls. It took a few more trips across my knee – especially for the older girl – before I think they realised I was serious and that spanking would be a permanent option.
What was a typical spanking like for the children?
The ones I got growing up involved all sorts of ritual and procedure, from corner time before and after to fetching implements and counting swats. I didn’t really think that was necessary when I started – I just wanted to make sure they knew why they were in trouble.
I always wanted to be sure I was level and calm when I disciplined, so I would send them to their room for 10 to 15 minutes while I took a deep breath and decided what I wanted to do, and indeed whether a spanking really was the best option.
If I did, I would take the wooden spoon from the drawer and go to their room. When they saw me with the spoon, they knew a spanking was coming. When they were younger, I would sit on a wooden chest in their room, make them come over to my side and pull down pants and underwear. It was not my intent to overly embarrass them, but I always felt that a temporary loss of modesty was the by-product of earning a spanking.
I would give a lecture on what they had done and what I expected going forward, then I would have them go over my knees. In the beginning, I gave one swat for each year of their age, but as they got a bit older two or three times their age was not uncommon.
When my oldest turned 12, I began using a wooden hairbrush on her – the same one my mom used on me. My goal was to give the least amount of swats with the minimum amount of force needed to make my point. I knew from personal experience that the brush packed more wallop than the spoon, so I began using it first on the oldest then in a short time on the youngest too.
When the oldest was around 13, she went though a phase where she was lying constantly to us. At that point, I added the belt to a spanking if a lie or deceit was involved. I found an old leather belt of my husband’s that he never wore anymore and that became the designated spanking strap. I would usually give six to eight licks after the hairbrush spanking, with the girl bent over and her hands on the bench.
What advantage does spanking have above alternative punishments?
Well, it was not something that I used as a first response – more as a last resort. So when it was used, the girls knew they were in serious trouble and had really done something to earn the punishment.
Over time, it definitely improved their behaviour and sometimes served as a deterrent. The main reason I often preferred to spank was because once it was over, it was over – we all could get on with our lives and the child had a clean slate. I would sometimes combine a sore bottom with other punishments like grounding, especially as they got older, but most of the time, the spanking was the punishment.
What used to happen immediately after a spanking?
I would tell the child to pull up her pants and come out of their room when they were ready. My eldest girl would be sulky and want to be left alone for a bit, which I respected. The younger was always more emotional and wanted hugs and reassurances. The oldest rarely cried, whereas the youngest always did.
I did also use early bed from time to time after a spanking, again especially as they got into their teens. I think it was an aspect of the punishment they really did not like because it made them feel quite juvenile.
The only time I would use corner time is if I were going to give them a second spanking with the belt after a hairbrush spanking, and that was only in cases where deceit had been involved. Typically, I would make them stand in the corner, pants down, for 15 to 20 minutes after the hairbrush before I would come back with the belt. I always closed their door when I did, however, so that no-one else would see them.
How did your children feel about being spanked, both back then and now with the benefit – pardon the pun – of hindsight? Were their friends punished in a similar way or not?
My oldest girl is now a senior in college and she mentioned to me a while ago that she and her roommates had been talking and she was surprised to learn that all of them had spanked as teens. She thought she and her sis were the only ones who were!
I never sensed any overt resentment from either girl when they were getting them, and in fact as they got into their teens, there were occasions where I believe they truly felt they deserved them. I have been quite surprised to hear both say, as young adults, how they think more kids would benefit from parents that disciplined them.
If you were to give one piece of advice to a mother just starting out with spankings, what would it be?
Never make the decision to spank when you are angry or not in control of your emotions. Don’t make it the only tool in parenting toolbox and be conscious that it might not always be the best option and not work for every child. Above all, be consistent.
When did you stop spankings and why?
Both of mine were last spanked at 17. For the oldest, the number of spankings once she started high school could be counted on one hand. Her last was for driving after drinking at a party she did not have our permission to attend.
The younger girl actually got more of hers once high school started. She is a ‘people pleaser’ and often gets swayed by the group. We had many issues, especially around ages 15 and 16, of lying about where she was and who she was with. I never had a hard age cut-off where I said I would not spank anymore, but I honestly never thought I would be spanking them in their mid-teens. However, when I did, I thought it was the most appropriate response. Once they graduated high school, I felt they were adults and would have to deal with the adult consequences of their decisions.
What legacy do you hope having been spanked will leave for your children? Do you believe they will go on to spank their own kids in due course?
I hope they will feel that they had a parent who cared enough to provide consistent discipline and demonstrated that actions and behaviours have consequences. I am not sure if they will opt to spank or not, but I would offer them the same advice – just know that all kids are different and respond to challenges in the most appropriate way.