I can't even remember the catalyst now, but I suppose it's not even important. What is important is that one night, a few weeks ago, I lost my patience and responded to an epic 3-year-old-tantrum by saying, "Do you want me to spank your butt?"
And then crying.
I don't believe in spanking. Never say never, I suppose? But I'm saying it anyhow: I never believed in spanking and I never have spanked and I never plan to spank. That's not to say my kids (amazing though I think they are) will never piss me off so much that I will have to leave the room in order to avoid spanking them. But I know that would be out of frustration, not out of true conviction that spanking them is the right reaction in the situation. And I don't plan on allowing myself to make parenting choices based in frustration.
I was spanked as a child. We all were. My husband remembers being spanked several times as a child, and even being slapped across the cheek or being victim of one of those upper arm pinches from hell as a teenager. In my mother-in-law's defense, she was essentially a single mom to 3 boys until she got married for the second time, to my father-in-law. My father-in-law who had 2 boys as well. At any given time, there were 5 boys aged 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 under one roof with two parents who were working their asses off just to make ends meet and survive. And none of those 5 boys was perfect by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the stories I've heard of their troublemaking have made me scared for years about having sons.
My own parents had 4 kids in just under 5 years. They both worked hard and still struggled at times to make ends meet. And while my siblings and I were absolute angels compared to my husband and his 4 brothers, we certainly tested their limits. And they yelled. Grounded. Had family meetings. And sometimes, spanked.
It wasn't effective, though. When I was young, it just made me scared to tell the truth when I messed up, and when I was older it just proved to me that they had lost control of us and all they had left was that. I was smug, even, over how they had done it all wrong and lost control and how I Would Never when I was a mom.
And so far, I haven't. But I've felt frustrated enough to. And I've come to understand why parents do. It's not because they are not perfect parents. It's because there are no perfect mothers. The kind of parent we envision being is not always the kind of parenting we embody. We lose our patience, our balance, and our ability to remember why certain things were so important to us in the first place. We say and do things that make us feel embarassed or contrite, and sometimes the embarassment comes from saying or doing that thing we said 'never' to and not feeling bad about it after all.
My husband doesn't feel how I do about spanking. It is not an absolute for him, but a gray area with a lot of room for interpretation. He doesn't think being spanked made him behave better when he was growing up, but he also doesn't think it made any permanent emotional scars. This is one of many (MANY) areas of parenting where one of us has agreed to compromise our more neutral feelings out of respect to the strong feelings of the other.
And on that night those words came from my mouth, I was ashamed and embarassed. I worried that Luca would remember those words and be afraid of what would happen if I got mad. I took her up to bed that night, tucked her in safe and warm, and sat beside her to talk. I told her I was sorry and that I should never have said those words, that I didn't mean them and I promised never to hurt her out of anger or frustration. I apologized, and told her it's important that we say we're sorry when we say unkind things and use our words to scare people.
She looked at me with those big green eyes and said, "It's ok mama. You love me." And I told her I do, and I always will. And sometimes, I'll say things I don't mean just like we all do. We kissed and I rubbed her back and she said sorry for making me mad. And then I left her to go to sleep, hoping she still felt safe and trusted me, her mom, not to hurt her because I'd run out of ways to deal with my frustrations.
I went back downstairs to where Darrick was lying on the couch watching TV. I was embarassed in front of him as well, not sure if he was judging me in his head or angry at me for holding myself to a different standard than the one I'd held him to all along. I told him I felt horrible. He listened to me and then smiled. "There are no perfect parents." he told me. "But you're an amazing mom."
He was right. We know there is no such thing as a perfect child. We expect them to learn and grow. We expect them to make mistakes and we take those opportunities to help them become better people. And just as they must grow as people, we must grow as their parents. I am not perfect, as a person, a wife, a woman, or a mother. Parenting is a craft we practice every day, with tests we pass and those we fail. We will make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes will far eclipse any our children make themselves. But the beauty of it all is that they don't want us to be perfect mothers; they simply expect us to love them unconditionally.