One aspect of parental discipline which is not often talked about is how some mothers and fathers deliberately tried to emulate at home the sort of punishments their children could expect (at least back in the day) during school hours.
This is perhaps particularly true in the UK, where a surprising number of middle class parents would keep a cane to discipline their offspring.
I have given a great deal of thought to the impulses behind such practices. Obviously, one factor is a desire to be firm, even strict, with your children as they learn and grow – and certainly, it was definitely felt amongst us kids that the parents who kept a cane for their children’s bottoms were up there as the strictest – it was almost a badge of honour for those who were subject to it.
But among parents themselves, I would say that an even greater impulse was the somewhat desperate urge to seek ‘respectability’ above all things. This was at a time when the class system in Britain was very much a tangible thing, and it was perhaps felt that this ‘respectability’ would cause them to be more widely accepted in the upper echelons of society.
Reputation was a precious commodity. Indeed, speaking from just my own experience, I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase: “What will the neighbours think?”
So, I think part of the search for this elusive badge of respectability was for our parents to emulate what they thought happened to naughty children of the upper classes, given that their parents paid large sums of money from them to go to strict, private schools where the cane was freely in use.
It was no doubt this factor which led to my own mother purchasing a proper rattan punishment cane for me and, believe me, it was put to very regular use across my bare bottom during my teenage years. Of course, I had been given ordinary ‘smacked bottoms’ over her knee when I was a younger child, but being ordered to lower your pants and bend over for the cane was on a whole different level as a punishment.
One thing I can say with great confidence is that my mother absolutely enjoyed using the cane. I’m sure there was nothing inappropriate about these feelings (i.e. sexual arousal), but there can be no doubt in my mind that she derived great pleasure from turning a stroppy teenager into a sobbing, sorry little boy with just a few strokes of the rattan across his bare bottom.