The first and only time I hit my son, he was six years old. With pride, I navigated the toddler years without raising my hand and dabbled in various forms of corrective discipline with equally varying degrees of success. At 6, he became increasingly argumentative, stubborn and unreasonable.
Eventually, his emptying all the bath water onto the bathroom floor with a jug was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I lifted him out, reasoned that he was old enough to understand what he had done and planted a shot on his bum. He and I were both stunned, but it was his reaction that surprised me. He didn’t flinch, he didn’t cry, he just asked,
“Did you hit me?” He was unsettlingly calm, not what I was expecting.
“Yes, because you are being a brat and you should know better”
“Am I allowed to hit you back?”
“No, I am your mother!”
“ Mum, you are a bully” he said softly. He seemed disappointed in me.
It was the simplicity with which he assessed what had transpired that shook me. In that split second, I humiliated him and demonstrated how a bigger, stronger person can inflict pain in a relationship. My behaviour opposed every quality I wanted him to have.
Hitting a child has always been a crime. However, our courts had generally accepted a defence from a parent that the hiding was reasonable and moderate. Last week, Judge Keightley found that this defence is invalid. A parent who hits a child can be charged with assault regardless of the circumstances.
The court cited many valid factors for rejecting this form of punishment which is frequently doled out at home. It struck me most that the inflicting of pain and the causing of fear under the guise of discipline in an environment that is meant to be safe condones violence as an acceptable form of conflict resolution.
The effect is that some young women are less likely to recognize an abusive relationship if they were subjected to that violence growing up. Similarly, some young men become numb to violence and don’t recognize the abuse of their power in a relationship.
Often, supporters of smacking children insist that they were hit and turned out fine. I disagree. The deplorable levels of women and child abuse in South Africa should alarm all of us into the belief that it is never okay to hit. NEVER.
My boys are now teenagers and I don’t doubt for a second that they will find themselves in some sort of trouble before they turn 18. My approach to discipline is unsophisticated, and at times erratic, but I’m hopeful that my husband and I have created enough of a safe haven in our approach to parenting that our sons can confide in us without fear of being assaulted by
On days when my children have pushed me to the edge of sanity, and I am seething, nostrils flaring and trying desperately to collect myself, my younger son tells me with a grin, “Mum,
use your words”.
Click here to find Protective Behaviours, an NGO dedicated to the goal of creating a safe environment for kids and adults.