Monday 19 March 2018

I smacked my kids - does that make me a 'violent offender'?

Australian drama series 'The Slap', based on an award-winning novel, explores what happens when a man slaps a child at a suburban barbecue
Australian drama series 'The Slap', based on an award-winning novel, explores what happens when a man slaps a child at a suburban barbecue
Parenting is so often full of grey lines of the least worst option
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

I have two well-adjusted and nicely-mannered (most of the time anyway) adult children. And they were slapped. Not recently, you understand, but in their so-called formative years. As a mother, I often made poor choices - we all do, as no other work requires you to learn on the job as much as parenting, but slapping wasn't one of them.

But now it seems like the European Council on Social Rights would mark me down as a violent offender. It has chastised (verbally only, thankfully) Ireland for not banning smacking in the home - a moot observation since it's entirely impossible to police in any event, any more than they can monitor my use of the naughty step, bedroom isolation or how much television they're allowed watch, because parents are pretty much left to their own devices in how they go about their business.

Not just in a loose, whatever-you're-having-yourself kind of way, but constitutionally. Parents have "inalienable and imprescriptible rights" to do their gig as best they can. They have the option to 'reasonably chastise' their children and I'm the first to admit that's a woolly term left open to interpretation.

I 'reasonably chastised' mine along the way and sometimes, rarely, it has to be said, this involved a smack. Never with an implement (or weapon, as the EU might have it), never anywhere but on a clothed bottom or hand, and only ever to put a sudden halt in the tracks of a temper tantrum or to stop something worse taking place. I'm well aware of the irony of using one type of physical punishment to stop another, but parenting is so often full of grey lines of the least worst option.

I had the mortification of my youngest being expelled from a crèche at the tender age of two. He had acquired a biting habit, common enough in toddlers, but his extended to random biting of whoever was around him, for no apparent reason. That had to be stopped and it wasn't being done effectively by soft punishment, which he couldn't correlate directly to the action, such as isolation in the corner, or missing out on a treat. His unformed brain simply could not equate the two and served to further frustrate him.

Crèche staff weren't allowed to smack him in the immediate aftermath of a bite. I was. Indeed, I was 'allowed' to bite him back, which I did once, on the back of the hand. He bawled, I cried and the entire incident was over in 10 seconds. The shock of this violence (yes, hands up), made a direct one-on-one, there-and-then impact which his mind computed. This is what it feels like, honey, so best stop.

He settled into his new crèche just fine and never had a problem since.

Yes, this is a shocking disclosure. Writing it now makes me uncomfortable with the memory, as does the one of slapping my daughter in Tesco when she threw herself down on the ground in full-flown tantrum after deliberately upending a box of cereal (a sugary chocolatey one I refused to buy).

My kids were, and are, normal. I figure I'm fairly normal myself. Did those punishments meted out make me a lesser person? Possibly, in some mothers' eyes. Certainly, a less controlled one. Discipline versus Abuse is a tussle I've never had to have with myself, though.

We banned corporal punishment in our schools in the 80s. Rulers banged on knuckles, straps of leather whipped on bony 10-year-old arses and sticks studded with nails being used to chastise a dunce unable to keep up with the three Rs are rightly, and soundly, gone.

I'm conscious of the argument that slapping either encourages good behaviours or establishes bad ones. I believe neither is true.

A quick slap relieves the frustration of the mother. That doesn't make it right every time, but if it's purpose is to deliver a "Stop that, right now" message to a child unable to absorb the happy-clappy, even toned voice and measured argument of putting oneself in another's shoes, then it works. Yes, it does.

Regularly, it's abuse. With an implement, it's violence. There are 50 shades of grey here, to coin a phrase, and many parents not only understand where they are, but employ and defend them robustly.

A government-sponsored report in 2011, 'Growing up in Ireland', showed that while 42pc of parents would ban slapping at home, 34pc allow it and a further 24pc say it depends on the age of the child. Slapping a 10-year- old is plain wrong, but there you go - that's my 'grey' shade talking again.

I reckon most people have it pretty much about right, and it would take a lot more than a fluffy, unenforceable rule to stop truly violent, bad parents from being so.

Irish Independent

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