By Michelle Bond
Spare the rod, spoil the child. I’ve been hearing that Bible quote since the moment I became a parent. Elders in the church would recite it to me as if they were speaking in code like it was some kind of verbal wink summonsing me to get my belt out and commence to “un-spoiling” my child.
I started following the “spare the rod” code when my son was a toddler, around the time he began hitting other toddlers. I would pop his hand and tell him No! But I felt like such a hypocrite hitting him while I was telling him not to strike others. The mixed messages this sent to him had to be puzzling.
As my son grew older, I tossed out more quotes to justify the hitting, most notably one I heard on the radio: What you do not hear, you will feel. Translation: “You don’t listen to me and basically you bring the beat down on yourself.” I even collected tips from other moms who would give their kids the “You Told Harpo To Beat Me” beat downs; one friend shared that when she spanked her child, the number of strikes her son received was equal to his age. It seemed like a good plan at the time, particularly since her son was well-behaved surely a sign that this was a bit of wisdom I should adapt.
It's fair to say that spankings were never my first choice. Initial consequences varied from making him go to bed early, to putting him on restriction, to my saying no” to whatever event was happening over the weekend. Spankings were the last resort. Still, in my mind, my belt a.k.a. “the rod” was supposed to spare me much more than a spoiled child. After all, spoiled little Black boys do not have freedom or longevity in this world. I had no option. The beat downs were for his own good. Or so I reasoned.
Thing is, the hitting didn’t seem to change my son’s behavior. During his pre-school and elementary school years, I would receive countless calls to come pick him up. This often resulted in me leaving work early. Being the sole provider for my son, it only added to the day's frustrations to have to leave my job because of disciplinary issues. On those occasions when I spanked him, the spankings were controlled; I’m confident my son won’t grow up and write a “tell all” book rivaling the “Mommy Dearest” tome that chronicled Joan Crawford’s child abuse. I acknowledge, though, that the spankings were meted out of frustration. Why did you curse out the teacher? Why did you hit the other student? Why were you throwing items out the bus window? Why? Why? Why?!
My son would eventually be diagnosed with ADHD as well as Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), which, on one hand, allowed me a non-curse word-laden description to help articulate what was going on. Still, it did little to ease the stress, as he would be kicked off the school bus or suspended from school time after time after time. My child was blessed with a beautiful personality, but let me tell you : impulsivity is a beast! It removes all logic from their little minds, giving them no time to factor in potential consequences. Which made the ADHD plus the ODD a one-two punch of daily chaos and confusion.
As my child got older and continued to get into trouble, some might say that I didn't spank him enough. They would see him act out and wonder why I wasn’t popping him upside the head to command the respect they felt he should be displaying. Some would even boast that they could raise my son better than me: Leave him with me for a week, and you'll have no more trouble out of him!
But at the risk of repeating this message in every column I write, it bears repeating: You cannot BEAT mental illness out of a child.
This is not about preaching to other parents that they should or should not spank their children. That's a personal choice each parent has to make and find his or her peace with. What I am confessing is that as I face my own truth, I know that if I had it to do all over again, I never would have spanked my son.
If I dare to be completely transparent, I would go one step further and say that what I did to him sickens me. Maybe it's the “Flower Child” in me, but today, the thought of striking another human being turns my stomach and makes my emotions cringe in shame, especially when people who know about my son’s behavior issues celebrate when I admit to having spanked my kid. It's the one act of parenting that I felt I had unanimous community support in.
I know my view may not be popular, especially in the African American community, where we laugh and spit at the idea of time out. And there's a strong chance that had I raised my son in a spank-free environment, I would be sitting here today wondering, “what if?” The tricky thing about regret is that it gives birth to an infinite number of what ifs?
My son is a spirit, a soul, a wonderful human being on this earth. And his mind is a wonderland at times. To discipline him by causing physical pain does not heal him or help him emotionally, neurologically, or spiritually. As he continues to grow and find his way, I will continue to discipline him as artistically and creatively as possible. 100% “rod-free.”
Michelle Bond is a writer. A mother. A Flower Child. All of these things… not necessarily in that order. She’s written for Today’s Black Woman and regional publications. Visit her at CoffeeBreakDMV.