Abby lives in a small town in Indiana, US. At the time of interview, she and her husband had three children – and she was pregnant with her fourth child.
Tell me first about the children.
Well, we have three at present, and I just found out I’m pregnant with my fourth. At the moment we have two daughters, Emilia is eight and Gwen just turned three yesterday, and my son Ezra is five years old.
Me and my husband are both from large families in small town Indiana. I grew up here and he lived in a neighbouring town but we went to the same church. The majority of the members at our church believe in large families and corporal punishment.
I believe you received many spankings yourself as a child, so presumably that had a big influence on your own decision to use corporal punishment in your own family?
To be honest, I grew up not even thinking of an alternative! Like I said, the majority of our church believed in spanking so despite growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, most of the people I was surrounded with were spanked.
My husband was the same – he wanted to raise our kids the same way he was raised. Not only that, but it worked really well on me. I was a rebellious kid (I think it’s karma that my youngest is so much like I was!) and if I hadn’t had such a strict upbringing, I would frankly have been out of control. I want my kids to have that same kind of knowledge of boundaries and moral compass that I had when growing up.
How old were the children when they started to receive corporal punishment?
From when the kids start moving and getting into things, we’ll start giving their hands a smack, accompanied by a firm ‘no’. They may be very young but at that point they are already forming their understanding of right and wrong.
When they start walking, we’ll smack a bare thigh when they’re doing something they’re not supposed to – either using our hand, a ruler or spoon. For my oldest two kids we started formal, over-the-knee spankings at around three. They get their first few real spankings with our hand to get them used to the change, and then we add implements.
My youngest, we started spanking her when she was around two. We put her over our laps when single swats and time-outs weren’t working. It isn’t a harsh spanking – just enough to put some colour into her backside and thighs – but it does the job. I always thought I’d wait until at least three with all my kids but my mother was right about each child needing to be treated individually when it comes to discipline.
Was your youngest child still in diapers when you started spankings, then? I take it those were removed, if so, to make sure she felt the chastisement sharply?
Yes, her diaper is always removed. It would be pointless to spank over all that padding. We’ll usually lay her down, bare her and then put her in position. We do this because she knows that if she’s lying on her blanket, she’s not supposed to get up. It’s easier than having her standing and trying to wrestle her out of her clothing.
Do you expect instant obedience from the children, or do they get the latitude of a few warnings before they have a sore bottom?
It depends. If it’s deliberate disobedience, then I expect instant obedience. For example, if I ask my son to stop whining and his response is to whine again, then he’s going over my knee.
At other times, I’ll allow them one warning. Usually, I’ll say something like: “I don’t like the way you’re behaving. If you choose to continue your behaviour, it will be a spanked bottom.”
Sometimes they stop at that. Other times, of course, I do in fact have to warm their bottoms. I don’t give continued warnings – I feel like one is quite enough. I grew up being expected to instantly obey, so I feel like giving them a warning is actually quite nice of me!
How does a typical spanking play out in your house?
It will start by me telling the child that they have earned a spanking, and why. I then tell them what implement to go get. I usually have them do this themselves – although occasionally I may have to get it myself, or have one of the other children get it for me, if they refuse. If the child being punished decides to go down that route, it inevitably leads to a longer spanking.
Once I have the implement in my hands, I have the child explain to me why they deserve to be spanked. Then I bare their bottom and put them in position. After they’re spanked, I will comfort them if they’re having issues calming down and then they go in the corner – three minutes for every year of their age.
Do you ever spank through clothing?
The only time it’s over clothes is for a few warning swats. I have never put a child over my knee unless they are bare. I want to make sure they can feel their spanking and I want to make sure I can see what I am doing. I don’t want to accidentally bruise them with the brush because I’m spanking through jeans.
Other than their first few spankings and warning swats, we always use an implement to spank with. We use several – some are on display and some aren’t. We start with the ruler, then spoon and at around five years old, we start adding the hairbrush and paddle.
I’ve used a bath brush on my eldest daughter just once and my husband has a small strap, which again he’s used on my oldest a few times too. We also use a switch for specific occasions – especially during when I’m pregnant, because it’s easier to get a sting out of without overexerting myself.
My husband also recently made three birch rods and they are hanging up in our living room. We haven’t used them yet but we told the kids over the weekend that if they left the yard without permission again, we will birch them. We hang up one of our paddles, the strap and the spoon there too, where the kids can see them.
What position do you use for spanking?
We use a few. We’ll use the ‘legs up’ or diaper position on occasion and of course lay them over our knees. However, more often than not, we have them use the straddling position. Usually this entails having them straddle one of our legs but we’ve also had them straddle pillows on their bed or the arm of the couch. We like this position because it gives access to the child’s inner thighs, which makes for a more memorable spanking.
How do the children react when they know they’re going to get one?
Oh, they cry, of course! For the most part, they’re actually pretty compliant when they’re being punished, but they can’t seem to keep it together before they’ve even been bared. It’s rare for them to fight it, though my youngest throws the occasional fit when she’s told she’s getting a spanking.
Are they taken to a specific room? What about witnesses?
More often than not, they’re spanked wherever they misbehave. The only time I’ll take them to a different place is if we’re in public. If we’re at a store and they play me up, I’ll take them to the car for a warm-up on the bare bottom, then give that child a full spanking with an implement once we get home.
I had to spank my son at a family gathering a few months back and took him to a different room to do it. There were still witnesses but not as many kids playing around him, which was distracting him from listening to what I was telling him.
Most of the time, however, whoever they choose to misbehave in front of, that’s who sees them being punished. The kids aren’t much of a fan of it, especially if it’s family friends, but I think it’s a good lesson. My kids are used to seeing their siblings get spanked.
Do you think your kids consider you a hard spanker?
Probably. I consider myself a hard and fast spanker! If they’re going over my knee, it’s going to be for a reason. They’re always crying very hard by the time their spanking is over.
And after that?
If they’re crying very hard, I’ll take a moment to comfort them. Then they have to apologise and they are put in the corner. They stand with a bare, red bottom for three minutes per year of age. After, they’ll come to wherever I am and explain why they got spanked and what they are going to do next time to change their behaviour. They then thank me for disciplining them, and then they can redress to go back to playing.
How efficient is corporal punishment at making good behaviour ‘stick’?
Well, admittedly there have been a very few times when they immediately misbehaved after a spanking. Whenever that happened, of course, they went right back over my knee. You have to break the child’s will.
However, usually they’re on their best behaviour for at least a few days after a spanking. It helps with siblings too, especially the older two. If one of the kids is spanked for attitude, I notice the others suddenly develop the best manners I’ve ever seen.
Does it ever happen that you need to go through the entire family, giving them a sore bottom?
Spankings for all three happen about once a month. By contrast, individual spankings usually happen at least once every few days, especially with my youngest being in the ‘terrible twos and threes’ phase she’s in right now.
How sore does the punishment leave their behinds?
They always have very sore bottoms. I don’t leave bruises but their bottoms are always a deep red and it’s usually several hours or even into the following day by the time the redness completely fades. There are marks at times from the switch or the strap, but nothing ever breaks the skin or leaves a bruise.
Are the children accepting of corporal punishment as a regime?
Well, I wouldn’t say they enjoy it by any means but yes, they do accept it. My youngest is easily my most difficult child and even she will happily explain to one of her little friends that she needs to be a good girl or mommy or daddy will spank her bottom.
They’ve all had moments where they don’t want to co-operate but for the most part they take the correction willingly. The eldest two know from experience it will be a worse spanking if they fight – my youngest is unfortunately still learning that particular lesson.
Once the spanking is over, how do you feel?
I know some people think I should maybe feel guilty, but I honestly don’t – I feel like I’m doing my duty to my kids. I don’t always like having to spank – it would definitely be easier to let behaviour go uncorrected sometimes – but I feel like I’d be failing my kids if I let them behave any way they want without consequences.
A spanking may hurt at the moment it’s given but the lessons they might otherwise have to learn as an adult will hurt worse if I don’t teach them now.
How long do you think spankings will continue in your household?
Well, my parents believed that until you leave the house, you lived by their rules and consequences. That included sore bottoms. My husband’s family was similar – he actually got his last spanking at 21. Right now, we’re planning to keep the same philosophy.