Today’s letter was sent to me a while back and I was very uncomfortable answering it. This is a very controversial topic. But, after receiving some wisdom recently, I feel I can answer it with love and compassion and without overstepping.
Desperate Parent writes:
I have a parenting question. My daughter was throwing a tantrum in the store the other day. I put my groceries back and took her out of the store. I gave her a couple smacks on the bottom and we went home. My friend was furious when I told her I smacked her and said that it isn’t okay to give a child discipline like that and I should have given her a time out. Can you tell me if giving a light smack on the bottom is okay or if it is child abuse like my friend thinks?
Dear Desperate Parent,
My. What a can of worms to open. But here goes.
Legally, is it ok? I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer.
Medically, is it safe for your child? I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. But physical abuse of children can be deadly and horrific and if you are leaving marks on your child you should get help for you and your child immediately.
Psychologically, is this damaging your child? Can’t advise on that because I am not a psychologist.
As a mom who used corporal punishment a few times, I wish I hadn’t. Knowing what I know today, I have deep regrets for making that choice.
As a spiritual counselor and soul doctor – here is what I can offer:
First, we start with you – your motivation for using corporal punishment. These are questions to ask yourself. This is not about judgement. This is about self-awareness – which is the root of spiritual development.
Why do you use this method?
What are the steps you take before, during, and after using this method? (what is your process?)
How do you feel before using this method?
How do you feel after using this method?
Do you think there are legal, physical, or psychological ramifications to this method? If so, what are they?
Would you stay in an adult relationship where your partner treated you with shame, pain, fear and conditional love?
Take some time to review your answers. If you are unhappy with any of them – consider a change. There are lots of resources out there. I listed one at the bottom of this post.
I can’t speak specifically about your child, but I can talk a bit about the way young children generally perceive things.
Before the age 7, children get all their beliefs from the people around them. That includes beliefs about themselves.
If you tell a child they are a good girl, they believe it.
If you tell a child they are a bad girl, and you add shame, blame, and pain to it, they believe it for a really long time – maybe forever.
If expressing their emotions means they receive pain or shame or fear – they believe emotions, honesty, and truth are not allowed. They believe some emotions are bad.
If they are allowed to express all of their emotions and guided to appropriate ways to express them, then they believe that emotions are good but that there are ways to express them that are better than others.
If the love from their parents is conditional on them behaving in a certain way or only expressing certain emotions – they will become domesticated, like a pet, and will fear acting on their own desires. Or, they will act in defiance out of self-defense and do the opposite of what you want them to do.
Shame. Pain. Fear. These are not expressions of love. They are expressions of unlove. Conditonal love. There are conditions on the love. I love you if and only if.
If you don’t act the way I want you to act then I will give you shame, pain, and fear.
Do we shame, cause physical pain, or make those we love live in fear? No. Those things are part of conditional love. “There are conditions you must meet before I can love you.”
Those conditions might get your child to behave in public. They might make your child do well in school. They might give you the pride to look at others and say what a good child you have. Others might compliment you on what a good child you have and what a good mother you must be.
But, will your child feel unconditionally loved by you?
Will your child know they can live and speak their truth?
Will your child grow up to pursue their dreams, or the dreams of those who wanted their behavior under control as a child?
Will your child grow up to have manners and be respectful and good, or will they grow up afraid to be who they really are in front of others so they hide who they are and keep secrets from the world?
So, in the end, my advice to you is this:
Decide whether or not you want to love your child with conditions, or unconditionally.
Decide whether you want a child to grow up to be a person who feels free to live their truth, or one who feels they must live for the wishes and desires of others.
Make the choice of what kind of parent you want to be truly– not living the wishes and desires of what others think you should be or society wants you to be.
Then, be that parent. Make your choice. Raise that child with those goals in mind. And accept the consequences of that choice.
Just as your child will live with them.
I wish you all the best and for you to receive the divine clarity you seek on this subject.
I am not making claims or assertions about the legality or health of the parent or the safety and health of the child in this post. As a mandated reporter, I will do my duty and report any suspicion of abuse. This post does not warrant such action.
Child Abuse is a serious issue. If you think a child is suffering from an abusive situation – whether by a parent, at school, at daycare, church, sports, or anywhere, please do the right thing and contact authorities.
There are lots of resources and information to help parents, children and educators at ChildHelp.org