Humans are bundles of marvels. I think of how much like cars we are in one key way — both have so many systems and subsystems that should any of them malfunction, everything stops, maybe forever, and yet we generally perk along without these single points of failure failing. More broadly, we also react to similar mental, physical or emotional trauma and stress very, very differently.
That latter concept first clarified for me in the 1960s when I volunteered in a veterans’ hospital. While I knew WWI and WWII vets who had lost limbs, gotten holes shot in their heads, were blinded and more in battle, in the hospital, others in seeming better shape remained. They spent most days in bed or sun rooms, too emotionally harmed to function in larger society. Their contemporaries had largely gone on with their lives, marrying, parenting and working. One man’s very painful, very inconvenient maiming was another’s cause for permanent surrender.
Thus it is too with abuse. That may be sexual, physical or emotional, bullying, rape, incest or myriad other forms of cruelty. Most common surely is the sadism that hides under parental discipline, beating your children with hands or objects under the guise of discipline or training, replete with Biblical allusion to a single nasty verse. (Other Proverbs verses riff on this — 22:15, 23:13 and 29:15.)
It no surprise to readers here that I do not approve of parents beating their kids any more than of bigger children bullying smaller ones. I was not hit as a child and did not hit my three. By itself, my parenting proves little, but all three of my young men are polite, considerate, non-criminal and socially functional.
Belatedly it seems and prompted by such as youth suicides, bullying is finally OK to call out. Notably, Emily Bazelon’s Sticks and Stones book has lots of coverage, leading to nationwide chatter. More personally, my friend who blogs as Uncle postd a series on his own considerable experiences with being bullied. There’s even related junk science, like attempts to link a mother’s childhood abuse to her having an autistic child.
Truths include though that bullying and child beating are pervasive in our allegedly civilized America. For corporal punishment, most of Europe and Asia as well as Canada prohibit it in schools and in many places it is assault and battery. Here, parents can still take hand, paddle, stick or even belt to their kids legally, so long as they don’t cause massive or permanent damage. Lord love a duck, as my mother used to say in frustration.
An oddment to me is that people I have known and read of discussing their beating of their kids invariably say something like, “I was paddled and it never hurt me!” When I hear that, I invariably respond, “Other than leading you to be a child abuser yourself.” And we’re off to the races, as the punisher tries to find some justification for terrifying and physically hurting someone in his (actually more likely her) care.
How is it that some of us and be so bereft of words, so lacking in judgment, so in the control of transient passions that you can communicate your disappoint and anger only in violence?
To circle back to the concept that we differ in our responses to trauma, let’s consider how adults deal with childhood physical abuse like beatings. Some decide never to hit their own children, which I deem a rational and humane response. Others retain vivid memories, recollections/reliving, along with the anger and fear those bring…maybe forever. Others take sticks, hands, belts and such to their subject children in some perverted pay forward, when it is really their parents they should direct their hostility toward.
Quite a few adults have told me how their parents hit them. I don’t see any direct relationship between the level and intensity of abuse, and the resulting long-term response of the adult. What I do conclude is that beating kids is cruel and irrational. It does not teach by example or any reinforcing message. Instead, keeping a grip on your own emotions gives you a lot better shot at teaching and showing proper behavior.
Kids can be infuriating and destructive. The temptation to hit them can appear hundreds or thousands of times in the years you raise and train them.Maybe the key question we should ask ourselves when we are suddenly mad at them is what sort of parents do we want them to be to our grandkids?