I’m a horrible mother. My kid’s four and I’ve already messed her up. It all started when I read this Dr. Sears article on spanking. In it, he says that violence begets violence; spanking doesn’t work; it sends the message that it’s ok for strong people to hurt weak people; and that kids who are spanked believe they are bad inside. It convinced me to stop spanking my daughter.
I never felt so ashamed as I did after reading that article. I have spanked my daughter, when she was acting so badly I just didn’t know what else to do. Like when she smashed her brother’s head into the wall. Like when she kicked him in the face. Like when she kept kicking her door in the middle of a tantrum. I did it in anger. I hurt her. And the article said that’s the worst thing to do.
Every time I spanked her, she cried and within a few minutes, asked me to apologize. Sometimes I did, but sometimes I felt justified and I wasn’t sorry. She always asked for a hug. The article said that kids will ask for a hug to stop the spanking. Since I only gave her one spank at a time, I don’t think that’s what she was doing. When we clash, she gets very upset that I’m angry at her, and she sobs “Mom-my, Mom-my, Mom-my!” She wants to be okay with me again. That’s why I think she always asked for a hug. And no, the hugging didn’t make me feel guilty enough to stop spanking her for good.
For four days, all I could think about was that I’d hurt my daughter. Not only did we spank her, but we told her she was “being bad.” Labels like that make the child believe she’s bad inside. Fairly often, she says that her friends at school say she’s a biotch. I know they don’t, because my daughter’s the only kid who uses that language in her school (and that’s a whole different story.) I think she makes up the story because she thinks she’s bad inside and needs some way to express it.
She will also punch herself in the head. When she does, we tell her to stop and hold her arm down and she still tries to do it. I asked her why she punches herself and she said that her friend Emily told her she has to do it and she wants to follow Emily’s rules. It’s possible she’s telling the truth, but she always does it when she thinks she’s guessed an answer wrong or she’s otherwise upset with herself and I wonder, would a kid that feels good about herself do this? I don’t think so.
So I obsessed over the damage I’d already done. I wondered, could I fix it? She could be young enough to bounce back, but it could go the other way too. Maybe by hurting her when she was so young, I’d done irreparable damage. I would never spank her or say she’d been bad again, but change was all I could do and I couldn’t deal with the guilt I already had.
I had mom guilt, and the only people who would understand it were other moms. I started with my close friend Sue, whose son is “bad” a lot. I emailed her about how bad I felt, detailing all that I’d done to my daughter. She was wonderful. She said that we parent our kids the only way we know how — the way we were raised — and we all do the best we can. I cried when I read it. She said to call if I wanted to talk.
I felt better, but not good enough, so I called my birth mother, who has taken over mothering me for my mom, who died two years ago. She told me the same thing – we all do the best we can. She added a strategy for labeling behavior. She said that when my daughter’s acting up, I should tell her that she’s making bad choices instead of “being bad.” It’s a fine line, she said, but it’s how you preserve your child’s psyche. She also said that my daughter would recover from spanking, and it probably wasn’t all that traumatic.
I felt better after talking to them, and I also prayed to recover from the obsessive guilt. Between God and moms, I got it all figured out. I will never spank or label my daughter again, and I will accept that I made mistakes and move on with my parenting. I’m sure I’ll find some other way to mess her up, or at least worry about it, but now I know what to do.
What have you done to mess up your kids? I’d love to hear about it. I don’t want to be the only one!