Which is why I don’t
Parenting advice is all about kids, but what about the parents? We also have the same basic needs, and feelings. Who’s feeding us? Are we pooping with someone screaming on the other side of the door? Have we slept? More to the point, how’s our mental health? How’s our marriage? Are the adults having a tantrum?
Sometimes I’m looking at my kids’ molars as they scream and I think, that’s how I feel. We just keep it inside. Until we can’t.
Sometimes I feel like giving my kids a ‘thundering slap’. South Asian culture still debates whether teachers should hit children, so parents hitting is fine. Parents here use hands, slippers, cane rods you can buy at any corner store. But I don’t. Because I can’t. Because I know it’s wrong.
The logic behind hitting kids is discipline, but I know this is a lie. I only feel like hitting them is when I have completely lost my mind. When I am at my most undisciplined. No one calmly plans hitting their children ahead of time. This would be sociopathic. It’s part of no parenting schedule and if you have meetings about it you’re demented. Hence the discipline thing is obviously bullshit.
Hitting is never good for children because it’s never about the children. Kids don’t get hit when they lose it, they get hit when adults do.
The fact is that parents have the same basic needs and emotions. We also get hangry, we’re also cranky without sleep, we also get constipated or gassy, with similar effects on our mood. When my kids are grumpy I know to check if they’re sleepy or hungry first, but nobody does that for me. We’re expected to just take damage and keep going. But parents are children too.
Like children, we also just lose it. If my son screams beyond a certain point I cannot cope. I cannot soothe him because I myself need to be soothed. So I leave the room. Even if the kid is a whirling dervish of snot and tears, we have to help ourselves before we can help them.
Those are the moments I want to hit. I can feel it, that internal whisper, like ‘they deserve this, they need to learn, this is for their own good.’ But at that moment, I am in no way equipped to teach or administer discipline, because I am an emotional goo. That whisper is just my inner child getting filtered through an adult brain, fancy words to justify a child-like rage.
Parents don’t hit their kids to teach them anything, they hit because they themselves have not learned. And, honestly, it’s hard to blame anyone, because I feel it too. My wife and I have every advantage — two parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, staff — but even then it’s sometimes too much. And yet we must, because we’re the adults. Hitting is still something that you categorically cannot do.
There is no category of people that it is acceptable to hit. You cannot hit your co-workers, or waiters, or employees or any other human being. Except for children, the most vulnerable of us all. How does that even make sense?
The only thing to teach your kids is to never hit, and then practice what you preach. And keep them away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe for as long as possible, where every problem is resolved with a fist-fight, and someone getting knocked out is a laugh line.
But gosh, it’s hard. Which gives me some empathy for my children as well. It’s hard to manage my emotions after 37 years, I can give them a bit of leeway after two. This is a chance then, to learn discipline together.
Seeing it that way, I can see myself in them. I have the same roiling emotions, the same ups and downs, the same tormented relationship with socks. The difference is not that I manage my emotions better, honestly, I just repress them. Emotional management is something we’re learning together, not something I’m teaching them.
Recently I got angry and my daughter stopped me. She made me sing the song from Daniel Tiger:
When you get real mad,
And you want to roar,
Take a deep breath
And count to four
One… two… three… four
Honestly, it helps. It’s not just for kids.
Ultimately we’re all just people, at different points in life, but with the same basic equipment. We all get angry, we all need to be soothed, and it’s never OK for any of us to hit. That’s not parenting advice, it’s humaning advice. It’s just good advice for human beings.
It’s hard to follow when you haven’t slept, eaten or pooped with dignity in days, but that’s the most important thing we can teach our children. Discipline. Doing the right thing even when it’s hard. Having principles and sticking to them. Managing emotions and being a better person, even if you’re screaming inside.
Discipline isn’t hitting a child, it’s not hitting them. That’s the true meaning of Christmas.