Driver’s Side Airbag #38
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Strictly Speaking   by Joan Kelly

One of those sisters, Dear Abby or Ann Landers, published a column purporting to be about what kids want from parents. It was titled something like "parenting tips from kids themselves!" Supposedly some minister got assigned to "counsel" the population of a jail for young people, and he asked these kids how they got there, and what their parents could and should have done differently so that they wouldn’t have ended up in trouble and whatnot.

The minister laid out this list of the most non-child-requested parenting "tips" that could possibly be imagined. It was such an obviously self-serving list from an adult control freak. All about punishment and strictness and how that makes kids feel taken care of. So, as a former child myself, I’ve decided to respond to this propaganda. Which, by the way, is about as socially responsible, on both the minister’s and Dear Abby or Ann’s part, as one social studies teacher I had in middle school who claimed that the African slaves in our country actually were happier before emancipation, because of how well they were taken care of as essential assets to their masters.

Confidential to advice column readers: anything involving punishment and control freakishness is so not what any kid would advise or request for his or herself from a parent. No child wants to be punished; please stop saying that, it’s very irritating to hear. Being punished is frightening and then it makes you angry at your parents, which you then feel guilty for, which makes it come out in other helpful ways, as anger has a habit of doing when squelched. I never felt, and I never heard any of my friends say they felt this way, that after being punished I learned something and felt more secure. All I ever felt was humiliated and enraged. And for anyone who’s nodding his or her head right now, going "that’s right, that’s what it’s supposed to do is humiliate you, humility is what teaches kids their place", you can go straight to hell. Humility is the ability to not put yourself above god, if you believe in one. Humiliation is a state from which no respect, for self or others, ever gets in or out.

Children, as any fucking child will tell you, need to feel safe and loved, period. Boundaries and respect for both parties are necessary for safety and love to be present in any relationship, and it’s up to parents to demonstrate what those things are and mean. Disrespecting a child by violating his or her physical boundaries through punishment, in order to force "respect" for yourself as the parent, is the equivalent of what children themselves do, when left unchecked. It’s the old "How do YOU like it!" bonk on the head when someone doesn’t do what you want. You just do something they don’t want back to them.

I’m not talking about shielding little people from any adverse consequences for ill-advised behavior. What I mean here when I say "punishment" is when parents hit their kids, at any time, for any reason, with any degree of severity at all. And judging by how corporal punishment is still such a hotly debated topic, such a fought-for right of freedom in parenting, it’s also what most other people still mean when they talk about punishing their kids.

I am full to the gills of so-called adults talking about what is best for children, how much children need and want to be bossed around and punished and "gotten tough with" and all that bullshit. You can teach a child not to be an asshole without being one yourself. Otherwise, what’s the point? Why deny children the chance to be fuckheads when they’re young and still agile enough to enjoy it if that’s a privilege that reaching adulthood grants you anyway? It’s not only unfair, it’s a waste of energy, staving off not only the inevitable but the apparently acceptable.

So if you’re bent on your right to smack your kids around, or you’re concerned about what would happen to society if everyone else stopped smacking their kids around, at least tell the truth about what’s behind that. Don’t say it’s what kids want and need. Don’t make some asinine list and send it to Ann Landers where you use cutesy "kid" language to pronounce punishment as something that is as sought after by minors as Beanie goddamn Babies. Have the balls to say what your big, mature, well-turned-out-despite-your-own-childhood- beatings self really feels. Kids are aggravating and it is a great release to hit them when you’re angry. Even if you feel guilty afterwards - which our column writers will quickly try to dissuade you of - it still does the job of an immediate steam-releaser in the moment when things overwhelm you. It’s hard to live with another person, even under the best of circumstances. But children, jesus christ they can drive a person right over the fucking edge. They whine, they ignore commands, they question your judgement, all while you’re sacrificing your freedom, your sex life, your money and your peace of mind to give them a chance in this world. They ruin things you worked hard to pay for. They mess up spaces that have just been cleaned in less time than it takes to swing an open hand at a moving target.

So here’s what mostly bothers me, besides the idea of screaming children. People seem to think their kids belong to them, and therefore telling them not to hurt their kids is the equivalent of telling them how to mow their lawns or clean their houses. Like it’s a privacy and a property issue. And while admitting that I don’t have any proof of this per se, I do feel that it’s true - I think that all babies are actually God’s children, not yours. When you punish a child, you are punishing a part of God that it sent down here and entrusted you with. You are punishing a life that is not yours to punish. You are deciding that you know better than God how its child should look and think and feel and behave, and you are deciding you have the right to use fear and pain to force this piece of God to be what you think it should be. Is that what you mean when you talk about the humility you learned when your parents punished you?

I am not proposing a world where anger is forbidden if you’re a parent. I have a fair amount of anger myself, as is partly evidenced by this little essay. I just don’t go around pretending some kindergartner wants me to hit her because of it. And this isn’t an attempt to send all parents who have ever hit their kids into a shame spiral. I’m just saying, it’s one thing to acknowledge that you’re a human being and sometimes you make mistakes, just like your child does. And to acknowledge that hitting another person, especially someone who cannot fight back, is always a mistake. It’s another thing altogether, a wholly unacceptable thing, to insist that your mistake is not only not a mistake, but also something that will make the person it affects have a happier life.

I do believe that adults can control their actions and just have a bottom line for themselves to not ever hit their kids. I don’t believe, given the fact that most people come from families where they got hit in some way by someone, that this bottom line is going to be in place overnight. But an honest effort needs to be made, and in between the time that people start raising their children without hurting them this way, and when it’s a given that it never should have been happening in the first place, much less defended, I don’t want to see any more of these fucking columns. I don’t want to hear anymore about how your parents did it to you and it didn’t hurt you. I don’t want to hear anymore about how you’re sorry, you just get so angry at them, and you have a really hard time controlling your temper. I don’t see you struggling to control your temper with people who are bigger than you.

Finally, I don’t want someone who was sent into a cage where children are locked up to come out saying one more fucking time that he’s figured out what’ll set them free and keep others from ending up there. And then after Ann or Abby and the rest of us perk up our ears for the good news, out comes the same old shit in a different suit. "Don’t hit your kids just because I say you should; hit them because they say it, too!" If you feel compelled to address this issue from the side of fighting for the rightness of kicking kids’ asses, you might be taken a little more seriously if you didn’t immediately run and hide behind a child. Or perhaps not. Perhaps that’s the point. You use kids for cover the same way thieves use old ladies as hostages. Who, after all, would attack such a vulnerable figure? Surely you’re safe in their shadows.

Consider yourself de-camouflaged.

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