Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pick Your Switch

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Pick your switch. My siblings and I heard this line quite a few times when we were growing up. "Pick your switch" meant that we were in serious trouble. We were to head straight out to the back yard and choose which switch (stick of appropriate size) we were to be spanked with. We were to bring it to our parent right away and they would methodically remove the stems and leaves while we watched and waited for our inevitable punishment. Other times it was a belt, a wooden spoon or a ping pong paddle. It wasn't just our parents, it was many kids' parents. It was the daycare provider. A school teacher might even have tried similar at times. That was just the way it was. We're talking late seventies, early eighties and maybe a little longer.

Not all parents chose to discipline in this way back then but I do believe it was a little more of the norm at that time. And before that, when my parents were children, it was a whole lot worse. The discipline that my siblings and I received as children was a toned down version of the discipline that our parents received at the hands of our grandparents and their communities. I believe my parents held back a bit. Trying not to hurt us in the same ways that their parents may have hurt them because they loved us and were making an effort to parent differently. A conscious effort. I believe that our generation is trying to do the same.

I do not spank my kids. I never break out the belt or the spoon or anything like that. I hold no ill will towards my parents for spanking me any which way when I was a child. That being said, I also do not feel that my parents ever crossed a dangerous invisible line. There was no blood or broken skin. They spanked hard enough to sting, to make us cry and be sore for a little while. All in the hopes that we would think hard about what we had done wrong and hopefully get the point and never do the same action again. In my humble opinion, it didn't really work in that way. We very much disliked being spanked but we didn't think about being spanked the next time we were tempted by something naughty. Spanking was futile.

When my oldest two children were very young I attempted to spank a couple of times. It did not work.  I was only using my hand and their cute little butts were covered in clothes or a pull up or whatever. My heart wasn't in it and they probably felt close to nothing. I  actually think they found it more interesting than deterring. It also dawned on me that what I was attempting to accomplish was silly. Just plain silly in a common sensical kind of way. I spend my days teaching my children to be kind and thoughtful, that hitting someone is never the solution and that hurting someone is wrong. And yet I tried to show them right from wrong by hitting them? So stupid when I really got to thinking about it.

When I need to discipline any of my five children now, and for the last maybe fourteen years or so after I wised up, I use different forms of punishment depending on age and the severity of their infraction. We use timeouts, redirection, grounding from different things and for different lengths of time, strongly worded conversations in a very firm tone, reflection on situations and every once in a while a slap to the back of the hand. The hand slap is saved only for those times in which they are about to cause serious harm to themselves or others. If one tries to stick a fork in the electrical socket, they are probably going to get a slap to the hand, one time and not hard enough to do any physical damage. Our choices of discipline seem to be working and I have pretty well behaved children. I understand that not all children, and parents for that matter, are alike. We need to choose what is right for our own family dynamic. At the same time we need to take into consideration the standards of the society in which we choose to live too.

The world is so different now. I am not just talking about how parents discipline their children. We can look at all kinds of things that used to be done differently back in the day. Car seats and seat belt safety. Work place safety regulations. Equal opportunity employment. Government operations. Prescription drug studies and distribution. The list literally goes on and on. What am I getting at? The blatant truth here is that we as people and as a society are constantly evolving and learning from our mistakes. Just because something was done a certain way say fifty years ago does not mean that it was the right way. We learn and we change and we move forward more educated and most times safer.

That being said, I am also aware that we are not all born with common sense. We are not all born with a self awareness and will power or even the ability to see things within ourselves that we would like to change and then to follow through with it. If we could all do that then the world would be a much different place. And this right here is why we have ever changing rules, regulations and laws. Someone needs to step in at times to help those who do not see the damage that they do. Kind of like the whole somebody-ruined-it-for-everybody thing. Silly example but long ago I worked for a popular restaurant chain and we, the employees, were allowed to stay after work and have a couple cocktails if we wished. That is until somewhere, in some other state, an employee had his couple cocktails, went home, decided climbing a ladder for whatever reason was a good idea and then fell off said ladder causing serious injury to himself. After that, nation wide, we were no longer allowed to stay and have a drink after work. The restaurants way of protecting us from ourselves and probably themselves from a big lawsuit. Right or wrong, this is just how the world works.

As for my opinion on the whole Adrian Peterson Fiasco? What he did was probably wrong. I say "probably" only because I do not know the whole story. I only know the bits and pieces that I have read about here and there in the media. And of course the swarms of comments by regular folk with their ten cents. Honestly, I do believe in the whole innocent-until-proven-guilty thing. So, I am going to sit back and let the authorities do what they need to do to solve this situation. I have to have faith in them because I choose to be an American and live in this country. If we ever feel they are doing wrong by us, venting on Facebook and the like is no way to make a change. Just sayin'.

While we are on the subject of Adrian Peterson and his lapse of judgement when spanking his young son with a stick and causing physical harm, allow me to add some perspective of my own. The only reason this is such a big deal is because he is famous. He is famous and got caught. Therefore, huge shit storm amongst the masses. Seriously? Take a moment and sit back from your screen. Think about your family, your coworkers, your neighbors, your fellow church goers. Adrian is not alone here. This kind of discipline still happens all of the time, all around us every day and usually behind closed doors. Not always closed. I have come across my fair share of parents out in public who seem not to have a care about who sees them doing this that and the other to their children for the whole world to see. But most of the time they don't talk about it. They don't sit at their desk at work and announce to their fellow office workers that they gave it to their kid real good the previous evening. They tone their story down or they keep the nitty gritty details to themselves and don't share at all. Why? Because deep down inside they know that many of us don't want to hear that and would probably disagree with their choice of discipline. Yet, like so many, they don't have it in themselves to change their ways. Sad but true.

So, yes, what Adrian supposedly did, like so many others still do all around us every single day, is wrong. We can sit at our screens and judge them until the cows come home and our faces turn blue. It won't solve anything. We need to leave the judging up to the judges. That is their job to define where the dangerous invisible line is drawn. And if we do not agree with how he/they are judged than we, as people and as a society, can get up off of our collective asses and make a difference where it really counts. We can lead by example. We can write letters to our government agencies. We can find or create support networks where citizens could get the education and the resources they may need to make a change in themselves. We can do all sorts of things. But judging ain't one.


  1. I, as I am certain with many parents who have a reflector bone in the body, wish I had the wisdom and maturity at 19 - 40 yrs old that I have at 62 yrs old. There are many many things I would have done differently, including to, but not exclusive of, discipline. We make mistakes as parents, and can only hope we did the best we could with what we had in our tool box, and that we learned and matured as we grew. And that our children will forgive our shortcomings. I would never lay a hand on my child if I had it to do over. Never.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing. I appreciate your feelings and insights as a veteran parent ;-)