Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Beating? Let's Talk About It.

The manufactured dust-up about an anti-spanking law here has strongly polarized folk nationwide. It remains to be seen whether as this House Bill 3922 gets a debate in committee and perhaps on the floor of either chamber it will cause the discussion that its author wants.

It had its hearing today before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. It is unlikely to reach the legislature for a vote and certain not to become a civil law. Neither the author, Arlington psychiatric nurse Kathleen Wolf nor the sponsor, her State Rep, Jay Kaufman, expects this to become law. However, Wolf would very much like it to be the basis for public discussion.

As such, Wolf manufactured the fight. Kaufman might have finessed this, but it is his obligation to advance any bill suggested by a registered voter in his district, once it is in shape to go.

H3922 would not criminalize spanking, although it would classify it as abuse as intended to cause pain and humiliate — exactly what nearly all children's butt beaters intend. We already have a Department of Social Services to step in as necessary and laws that in theory hold parents responsible for maiming or killing their kids when the parents lose it. Pretending this bill is some sudden novel plot against parents' rights is disingenuous.

The other side has lost no time in manufacturing its debate on this, rising to Wolf's bait. Predictable among the responses are:
  • This is nanny state, liberals gone wild and proof we need less, not more, government.
  • Both conservative sorts as well as MSM don't bother to distinguish between such civil legislation (penalty is notifying the Department of Social Services to evaluate) and criminal law. They portray this as a SWAT team kicking in a house door to arrest a perfectly normal dad for spanking his wild child.

My Very Own Bottom

I have three children whom I have never spanked. I well understand the impulse; kids can be damned trying. In fact, a few days after the birth of our first, I began to get a sense of that. He did not sleep more than a few hours at a time for the first six months. We were exhausted and often short-tempered. I used to half-joke with my wife as I staggered with him from crib to her breast how clever nature was to make babies cute. When he smiled to see me and reached out to get picked up, my fatigue and anger vanished.

My own background is worth a mention. My mother had grown up with her strict, country mom hitting her with a paddle, belt or switch. When my sister and were very young and part of the Occupation Army in Japan, the maids did not hit us any more than they would have hit their own children. Their society did not work that way.

When we returned to the States, my parents divorced and my mother raised us, while working full time. My sister and I shared a bedroom and would talk after being told repeatedly to let our mother sleep. She tells the story of spanking me one of those times, when I was five. She said I was just lying there and she asked if it hurt me. I told her not really. She said it did hurt her hand and wrist, so she stopped and never spanked us again. We got lectures and restrictions but no corporal punishments.

That is my approach. It requires more wit and maturity than beating a smaller, defenseless person.

Likewise, I have friends who were abused in the name of punishment and training, often with skin-breaking belt beatings. They also responded by not ever hitting their children — no matter how justified it might seem at a moment of pubescent sass.

On the other hand, I know people who spanked their kids and some who also spank their grandkids. Invariably if the subject comes up, they'll say something like, "Well, I regularly got my butt beat and it didn't hurt me!"

Another way to look at that background and its result might be, "Well, yes it did. It turned you into a child abuser." Therein lies the crux of Wolf's debate.

Two Views in One Paper

Two disparate and telling views appeared in the Boston Herald. As you might imagine, their editorial played the Big Brother angle. However, columnist Peter Gelzinis wrote to the underlying issues.

The editorial included, "The bill is wholly unnecessary for more than the obvious reason - which would be the government regulation of parenting. Would the Spanking Police have a right to storm the front door if they hear that Dad gave Junior a swat for playing in traffic?"

Gelzinis, on a less emotional tone got a good quote from Kaufman:
I am keenly aware that bills are very dull instruments when it comes to trying to legislate good behavior. But what I’m grateful for with this is the chance to engage the public in a conversation on the troubling, almost epidemic rise, in the number of child abuse cases we see each year. It has simply become unacceptable, and if a bill like this can shed some more light on the issue, then the effort is worth it.
The columnist then added:
But then, when it comes to spanking, every parent is convinced they know how to do it just right, and it’s none of anybody else’s damn business - least of all the state. Problem is, DAs across the state this year charged about 5,000 people with not knowing where discipline ended and abuse began.
This bill is getting lots of coverage in the MSM as well as winger blogs and commentators. We don't have to wait for a Rush Limbaugh to take his turn, our local Hub Politics jumped right in with its ridicule and conclusion:
And where does it end? Will parents no longer be able to enforce their own curfews, deny their kids privileges based on their performance in school... Will the state start regulating how much parents can give their kids for an allowance?

Are we going to sit on our hands and let the state tell us how to raise our kids?
I must say that is very well put and clearly states the kids-as-property view in the guise of parents' rights. It leads to an equally precise response.

Sitting on your hands may work. If you are frustrated and feel out of control, rather than take a belt or paddle to your kid, sit on your hands! More humane and rational alternatives will come to you long before the DSS knocks on your door.

Next Day Update: Mass Family Institute testified against 3922. Director of Public Policy Evelyn T. Reilly actually seemed to reinforce Gelzinis' argument. She very carefully parsed the ideal situation — one likely out of reach of a parent acting in anger:
If administered carefully, with love and an explanation, many such children eventually express relief that there is someone in charge that they can rely on to guide them and show them right from wrong. Many children need to know that there is someone in charge who is even willing if necessary, though reluctantly, to judiciously administer a non-injurious spanking.

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Real Anonymous said...

I'm a liberal who has no problem with corporeal punishment and am offended by the suggestion that everyone who spanks their child is a child abuser. Let's try to differentiate between discipline and abuse and recognize that not lump all actions into one category.

Every child is different. Some children will respond to lecture and so forth; some need a foot up their behind. And I see far too many UU kids who need a foot in the behind getting a lecture that they aren't listening to instead.

Too many parents are trying to be their child's friend instead of their parent. And while children might not be their parents' property, they are their responsibility. If the state wants to take over that responsibility, fine. Until then, let parents be parents.

massmarrier said...

That you would claim offense is fascinating. I think the Herald columnist touched on that well — everything thinks he or she knows the perfect balance of good parenting v. abuse. Yet in thousands of cases that become known in this state alone every year, that's not the case.

I acknowledge that it may be possible that you are one of those who have that perfect balance. It's not my style and yet I'm sure my children would not say that I am a friendly pushover. I just don't hit them and never have.

massmarrier said...

Oh, and by the bye, R.A., my three sons are by all accounts respectful and well behaved. Numerous other parents have cited them as examples. That's a small sample, but it has worked fine for us into adulthood for one and with two teens.

Ryan said...

Child abuse is child abuse is child abuse is child abuse. I've never seen a parent hit their children when they weren't angry - and how is it possible to teach someone right from wrong when they're too POd to think straight in the process? Hitting children is the easy thing to do and is never a necessary thing: there are always better methods to get children to learn proper behavior.

I've long hoped this bill, and others like it, would soon pass in this state. The whole 'government shouldn't regulate parenting' argument is one of the most bogus things I've ever heard of - people must forget that America has been doing that for a very, very long time now, in many different ways - including when it comes to child abuse. It's just that, as the centuries have passed, we've learned more about what defines child abuse and how it impacts children.