Carolyn Hax: Handling a disgreement over whether a toddler should ever be spanked

Carolyn Hax
Columnist October 21, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My husband and I have a toddler who has never been spanked. We have differing views. He’s old school and thinks kids need a spanking occasionally. I both abhor the idea of hitting my child and fear I might take things too far if I don’t draw a bright line in the sand that our family doesn’t hit. I’m not a violent person and I have never gotten in fights, but I used to really take my younger sibling to task when she got on my nerves.

We did discuss this pre-child, but we remember the outcome of that conversation quite differently (which probably signals its own set of issues). Any advice? He’s not someone who finds “the research says . . .” compelling.

Anonymous


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

That in itself is cause for concern. “The research” is an idea that warrants skepticism, certainly, because it has been used to justify all kinds of contradictory things over the years — and what drives research anyway besides skepticism of past customs and research?

Yet, still, taking a dismissive position is different from being skeptical. That has more than a whiff of his thinking his way is right and everyone else — science, the village, you — can stuff it.

And that’s a problem especially when it comes to raising kids, for two main reasons:

(1) He is not a sole parent, he’s a co-parent, and he doesn’t get to act unilaterally. If he won’t take anything you care about into account, then he’s starting out your child’s emotional education by undermining half of his/her emotional world. Thanks, Pops.

(2) Kids’ personalities, temperaments and needs aren’t one-size-fits-all, and an arrogant or overly certain parent is going to miss the fact that being flexible can sometimes be more “right” than being right.

I realize this is all warning and no advice so far, but the warning is why it’s time to tell him you feel very strongly here — about the spanking issue in particular, and the need for compromise, flexibility and mutual respect as co-parents in general. Say you’d like to reopen the topic with him. Try it as a sit-down conversation when someone else is watching your toddler.

This isn’t about getting your way — parents will disagree on things — it’s about getting your due respect. Spell that out for him, too.

If you don’t believe you’re getting that, then it’s referee time, be it with a parenting class or a marriage and family therapist. (Yeah, a research skeptic will leap at therapy . . . but do try.)

You also can’t ignore the fact that he hasn’t actually spanked your child — right? Philosophies are important, yes, but not as important as what he does, and so far he’s just talking to you.

That means you still have time to discuss how spanking will affect the way you two handle it when your child hits. Do you say, “No hitting”? Then Daddy needs to be prepared for the day his child responds with: “You hit me. Why is that okay?”

“Because I’m your father” is lousy teaching, since it doesn’t say, “Respect me, I’m the elder”; it says, “When you get big like me, you can push around anyone weaker.” That’s a high price to pay for “winning” one tiff with your kid.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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