In two weeks, my daughter will be 3 years old. And then, two weeks after her birthday, if things happen when we’re expecting them to, she’ll be a big sister.
This will make me, for lack of a better term, a fucking dad. I mean, I’ve been a dad already for (almost) three years. But I think having multiple small children places you in a different realm of dadhood. Because one child could have been ... well, let’s just say that people don’t always plan for pregnancies. Two children with the same person within three years of each other, however, is a fucking plan. A fucking decision. The result of some motherfucking spiritual and emotion and psychological arbitration. Like a member of La Cosa Nostra, this is the life I fucking chose. And the only way out is through witness protection. And by “witness protection” I mean “Maury Povich.”
Since I am a fucking dad, there are certain skills and talents and aptitudes others presume I possess, and most of said presumptions would be correct. It’s presumed, for instance, that I’ve devised an entire shoulder twerk routine to the “Daddy Finger” song. This is true. (I’m actually doing it right now.) It is also true that I’ve learned how to sleep with a 2-year-old’s sharp and tiny and hungry foot embedded in my eye, since this is what happens whenever my daughter climbs into bed with us and transmutes into a nighty-rocking octopus.
What hasn’t been true, and what I’m assuming will never be true, is the presumption that being a fucking dad has made me uniquely qualified to offer advice on raising children. But what’s actually happening, even now as I type this, is a growing wonderment that kids turn out fine at all. (Well, mostly fine.) Because this parenting shit is day after day after day after day after day of throwing shit at the wall and seeing what maybe sticks. You do a thing, and you just hope the things you do are helping and not harming them. Of course, there’s a base of knowledge that every parent should be equipped with. You should know that you shouldn’t allow your daughter to eat rubber cement. But the spectrum of possible parental behaviors after the “feeding your kids glue” baseline is vast, and parenting is ultimately a lifelong journey for helpful lodestars in that vastness.
Also, this experience has given me an even greater appreciation for my parents and anyone else who’s been parents of people who are grown now. I assumed, as a kid, that the grown ups always knew what the fuck they were doing. That they were these singular beacons of rightness and righteousness; impervious to fear, doubt, anxiety, angst, selfishness, and all the rest of the shit that weighs on and streams through us. But they just did the best they could with the information available to them. They also traversed through that vastness, they also were scared, they also were worried that a thing they did or were currently doing might have been harmful than helpful, and they also had the same sorts of epiphanies about their parents. They were just human.
Anyway, yesterday I read a report of a new study from The American Academy of Pediatrics proving that spanking is an ineffective form of discipline, as it puts children at an increased risk for “negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes.” These findings echo what numerous other studies have been saying now for decades, and what Dr. Stacey Patton articulated with a racial context in Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America. It isn’t just ineffective, it’s actively harmful.
Naturally, these sorts of studies spawn debates about child rearing, and I witnessed a few of them on Facebook yesterday. As usual with this topic, the counterarguments varied. Some claimed that a lack of spankings is why kids “are the way they are today.” Others tried to make a distinction between “spankings” and “beatings,” allowing one correct point (beatings are worse than spankings) to be the fulcrum for an incorrect takeaway (spankings aren’t abusive). Mostly, however, the arguments focused on what their parents did or didn’t do. “I was spanked and I turned out fine.”
The irony there, of course, is that if spanking is abuse (and it is) and you spank your kids because your parents spanked you, you didn’t turn out as fine as you believed you did. But the obviousness of this point is clouded by a loaded context. No parent—not even parents who consider themselves to be open-minded and/or progressive—wants to be told that they’re doing the wrong thing with their children. Even less want to hear that what they’re doing is abusive. These are valid reactions to academic studies about a subject so personal and variable. They’re not the right reactions, but this skepticism is understandable.
And it’s with this context, with this history, and with my own experience as a parent (and a child) that I ask those who still believe in corporal punishment to just consider something. Your parents and my parents and our parents’ parents did the best they could with the information they had access to. All I ask is that we do the same.