Posted by: DD | January 23, 2007

no. 365 – A Parental Legacy

Mr. DD and I were each raised in conservative homes. My parents weren’t necessarily strict, but they instilled a sense of respect in me to the point that even now, at 39, I rarely swear in front of them and it’s usually limited to "damn" and "pissed off". We worked hard as children of farmers. Laziness wasn’t tolerated. Punishment for lying or back-talking was a smack on the behind with an old-fashioned, heavy, wooden yardstick that is still in the kitchen.

I don’t think my husband got off that easy. His father was a bully who yelled, belittled and cursed. He still does at 85. I’m sure he wasn’t light-handed, either. Mr. DD has never gone into details, but when we discuss when and if we should use corporal punishment on X, he always has said that it didn’t do any long time harm to him.

When X and Mr. DD butt heads, which they do with alarming frequency, I see that how he was raised didn’t exactly help.

There was an incident here a couple of weeks ago, that even now, makes my hands tremble. X was stalling at bed time and Mr. DD was losing patience. One thing led to another: X was on the floor ignoring repeated requests to get dressed; Mr. DD was yelling at him; X kicked at him; Mr. DD quickly retaliated with a smack to X’s bottom. A very hard smack.

I was sitting there, trying to keep everything from escalating without actually taking over. When I saw, and heard, how hard Mr. DD had spanked him and X started screaming, I lost my shit. Mr. DD immediately tried to sooth X, but I pounced in and was lifting X into my arms. Mr. DD resisted and wouldn’t let go, and under the din of X’s wailing I hissed that if he didn’t let go, I’d punch him in the face.

We both knew at that moment, I would.

He relinquished his hold and I carried X into his bedroom where within a few minutes he had calmed down, but I couldn’t seem to get my pulse to slow. I was beyond livid.

Mr. DD and I have never fully agreed on punishment styles. I prefer timeouts, which come after only one warning. Mr. DD threatens spanking, but rarely follows through. It’s the bullying that is the hardest for me to deal with. If I try to step in, Mr. DD accuses me of undermining his authority. He doesn’t seem to understand that he’s already done that when he starts to yell.

I remember the first time Mr. DD spanked X, which was a couple years ago. I told him that if he ever did it again, it was because he didn’t respect me and my wishes, which was not to physically punish him; or that he was unable to control his temper.

Sadly, it is me who is also unable to control their temper, and X has been on the receiving end of a pop or two to the behind from me since I made that statement.

It’s hard to imagine that there was a time I was firmly against it, and even harder to imagine that X was such an agreeable and easy toddler. At 5 he has perfected the defiant stare backed up by the silent treatment. He is a 15 year old jam-packed into a preschooler’s body.

That night, after I threatened Mr. DD, we have vowed to try to step back when we get angry. We both recognize that the angrier we get, the tighter X gets wound; and the tighter he’s wound, the angrier we get. It’s a horrible and vicious circle that we struggle with daily. I know most parents do.

If we each recall vividly our parents’ punishments, then maybe there was more harm done than not. Is this what I want for X to remember? When he has his own children, I don’t want him to have to tell them that spanking "did him good". I want him to remember that when he was at his worst, we were at our best, offering support and encouragement, not threats and punishments. Maybe this was the legacy that wooden ruler was supposed to give me.



  1. Excellent post! I was raised in a very strict household too. With 8 kids, I can understand *why* my parents were so strict.
    My dad worked middle shift, so he was out of the house from 3 until midnight, leaving Mom to do all the disciplining. She was smart about it though, we all had “stuff” to do. The boys had football, hockey, & baseball, my sister & I had cheerleading, softball, volleyball & gymnastics. Plus we all had chores to do. We were too busy to give her any trouble, plus she was dead-on accurate with the wooden spoon. You didn’t mess with Mom. Dad on the other hand, was a pushover when it came to me & Sis. He was very hard on the boys. They lived in fear of the belt.

    When it comes to Maggie’s discipline, I’m a bit passive-aggressive. I’ll tell her to do things, then I’ll end up doing whatever it is I was telling her to do, not follow through on the punishment, then I get angry & send her to her room. Joe isn’t against giving her a “pop”, but I’m always afraid I’ll hit her too hard or too much. I think that a child should be raised with love and gentleness, a firm hand, but not violence.
    I could go on & on, but I’ve already taken up too much of your blog!!!

  2. I’m really reluctant to ever spank. I think I’ve done it once in 10 years with my kidlets. And that was because my older son ran out into traffic to get his hat. A stupid hat!
    I remember yelling at him that I could buy a new hat, but I could never replace him, ever. His life isn’t worth a hat. that piece of logic has stuck with him to this day, not the swat to his rear.
    Trouble with physical discipline is that they get bigger than you, and eventually you can’t do them any damage, so really what we need to do is find a way to exert our authority without using our bodies, IMHO.
    My 10 yo is stronger than me, and 6 inches away from being taller. He’s not scared of me spanking him, but he is aware that I’ll take away his allowance, or change the password on the computer, or confiscate his nintendo.
    Finding out what he really doesn’t want to lose has helped me keep my title as “Mom.” It sounds like you and Mr.DD need to talk a bit more. Parenting is so hard…

  3. Dear DD, that must be so tough to deal with — the way we were raised is so, so hard to escape, especially in angry or weak moments. You seem to have handled it very well so far, and I’m so glad you’re talking about it.

  4. Ugh – this is one of the hardest things about parenting. My MIL was MEAN – she was a yeller and a hitter – and nothing was good enough for her. You wouldn’t know it by meeting her today, but I’ve heard the stories and even she admits she was a bad mother. My parents didn’t have to hit – I knew with a look that I had overstepped my bounds. My relationship with The Boy is that way, too. He knows when he’s going too far and most of the time, he minds that look. Not that I haven’t swatted him – I have. But, I make myself sick over it later. Now, MFH is just like his mother. He yells. YELLS. I hate it. He is not quick to spank but when he does, it’s hard. I have had to step in, like you, and threaten, like you. It sucks, but I am a mama bear and don’t you dare……The Boy and dad butt heads a lot, too. What is up with that? I thought they’d be best friends. Maybe that comes later in life.

  5. Sorry – I’m with Mr. DD. I was spanked and turned out fine. If a pop on the butt gets a kid from being a little snot to realizing it’s not a game, and he’d better do what he’s told to do, I’m all for it. May sound harsh – but it worked well for me with my daughter. (Who, in all honesty – maybe has been spanked 3 times in her life. And at 13, we’re not throwing her over our knees any time soon!)

    The main thing here, is you and Mr. DD HAVE to be on the same page. And, you taking X away when Mr. DD punished him – that sets the stage for major dischord not only in your marriage, but for X to play you two off each other. This just set off huge warning bells for me, because it’s something my husband and I have had to deal with – and ours is complicated even more since we’ve got “his” and “mine” kids. (Mixed family.) Whether you spank or not – you two need to agree on it, and not step over each other in the execution of whatever that plan is.

  6. Girl, I so understand the conflict… I was raised in a very abusive household, and that has made me strive to not be that way with my kids… However, I am a firm believer in the spanking, and think that it does command a child to respect the parent more, but there is a line that you have to be careful not to cross. Now even though Kent isn’t my biological son, he is 15, and at a “fun” age, so I actually find myself arguing with him more then I want to, and have even popped him once or twice. With us it is a power struggle, and I have come close to losing my marbles on him a few times, but I guess I keep in the back of my mind how aweful it felt to get beaten!! I guess I really don’t want to be the lunatic that my dad was, but I do think that some physical disapline is a good thing…

  7. It’s never easy, is it?

    I think the most important part is you and your husband have to be on the same page when it comes to discipline. And it’s a discussion to be held when you’re both calm and things aren’t heating up behaviour-wise, and take place away from the little one.

    I’ve caught myself yelling at MF on occasion when I’ve reached the end of my rope with him; I’m human; it happens. But I always apologize when things start to calm down. And I explain why I was so upset, even though I know he doesn’t quite ‘get it all’ yet.

    Hang in there.

  8. Very brave post. It is so hard in those moments not to lose your temper isn’t it? Sometimes I am afraid that if I spanked Bug I wouldn’t be able to stop at just one pop on the butt. So I try to avoid it at all costs.

    I don’t remember myself being spanked as a child but I do remember my brother being spanked. My dad has a bad temper too.

    No assvice for you..just a brave thing to say outloud.

  9. It is so hard to completely break away from the way we were raised. And so hard to always keep that parenting bar held as high as we want. No advice other than to give yourself a break – we all lose it sometimes. X may recall some of the punishment but he will also recall all of the love.

  10. My father hit us too much. We weren’t spanked. I was usually slapped across the face, and my brothers were kicked. When Juan finally lost it and physically retaliated my father stopped with the beatings. I guess the “discipline” was only effective when we didn’t defend ourselves.

    I have a bad temper. Sometimes when I get really frustrated with my students or my dogs I really, really want to hit them. I don’t want to lose my job, and I don’t want to hurt my dogs, but the impulse always frightens me. Jeremy has a bad temper as well. He was spanked as a kid, but his parents also did a lot of talking. They were very good about using the spanking as a form of disciplining the child and not as a sign of anger.

    Really, I can’t say I’m against spanking. I don’t trust myself not to go overboard, so I just don’t reprimand physically. It’s a tough one — the whole discipline thing. It’s not exactly a topic of conversation that comes up when a couple plans for or dreams for their future family.

    Live and learn… the love outweighs everything else. I’m sure you and the mister will come to a common ground. You both want what is best for X.

  11. I feel terrible for your husband, discipline is not easy. I’m not yet a parent but I’ve already started therapy to deal with my temper and violence: holdovers from growing up with a violent, angry mother. I know spanking is just one tool in the parent toolbox, but I know in my heart it’s a tool I’ll never be able to use rationally. That’s just me, though. Other families seem fine with it. I can see that my DH might be able to spank where I wouldn’t be able to.

    I wish you both the very best as you find a way to discipline that works for both of you. It might take some ups and downs but I’m sure over time you’ll find a way that works for your family.

  12. Discipline, that’s a sticky point with me and my husband. I am hoping that we find a good way to bring up our boys!

    Take care

  13. yup – that is tough. This is when you probably want to take those parenting books (written by experts, of course) and throw them out the window.

  14. I think this is one of the toughest issues that parents face. I ran a lot of parent support groups back in my previous life. It’s amazing how many people feel that it’s ok since their parents did it and they survived/turned out ok/learned from it. It still doesn’t make it right. But kids learn how quickly to push our buttons.

    Thanks for writing about this.

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