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Spanking: A black mother's view
By Karen Grigsby Bates
The survival legacy of slavery taught blacks to spank more than whites -- and that's why you don't see as many black kids having public tantrums

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T A B L E_ T A L K

Why does my 14-year-old hate me? Parents of adolescents cope and question in the Mothers area of Table Talk

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R E C E N T L Y

Princess Monica
By Lori Leibovich
Why the Starr Report and the Tripp tapes make Jewish women cringe
(10/06/98)

Bed rest sucks
By Kristin Wiederholt
Excessive vomiting, boredom and the other joys of bed rest
(10/05/98)

Falling for Tiger Woods
By Erin J. Aubry
Sportscasters may have abandoned this young wonder, but I'm still by his side
(10/01/98)

A mother's guide to gunk
By Lisa Moskowitz
Help! I've got Silly Putty stuck in my eyebrows and it won't come out!
(09/30/98)

Her siren thong
By Shelley Youngblut
Eve had her apple. Monica had her thong
(09/29/98)

BROWSE THE MOTHERS WHO THINK FEATURE ARCHIVES

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Mamafesto
By Camille Peri
Why it's time
for Mothers Who Think

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O R N O T T O S P A N K

A husband from the working class squares off with his gently bred wife.

BY ALBERT MOBILIO | A lifetime ago I was sitting at Sunday dinner with my parents. My mother and I squabbled while my father ate in silence. Seized with that squeaky truculence typical of most 10-year-old boys, I let fly a particularly nasty remark at my mother, whose hurt and shock I was just beginning to take in when the back of my father's hand exploded against my mouth. Coming from a truck driver and onetime amateur boxer, my dad's cuffing was hardly all he could have mustered, but nonetheless, the blow was a sharp one that fattened my lip and elicited a burst of tears. Of course, my mother leapt up to minister to her baby's wound. My father retreated from the room, embarrassed, my mother would later tell me, for having lost his temper and smacked me so hard. Indeed, it was the only time my father ever hit me with his hands. But mine was still a household where corporal punishment -- meted out with a belt -- was an occasional, though no less memorable, resolution to my boyhood defiance. By current child-rearing standards, I could be called an abused child. According to those standards, my old man shouldn't have belted me, but instead should have signaled a "timeout," during which we might have bid everyone's anger melt away so that afterward we could talk about those disturbing feelings.

As a kid born in the mid-'50s, I was raised during a transitional period of child-rearing philosophy. The folk notion of "Spare the rod, spoil the child" was giving way, at least among the educated classes, to less punitive methods of discipline. Instead of spanking, experts like Dr. Spock advised parents to treat kids as relative equals and refrain from possibly trauma-inducing violence. Throughout the '70s and '80s this approach was supported by numerous studies that suggested strong links between spanking and juvenile delinquency, low IQ, depression and low earning potential. For boomers coming into parenthood during these years it seemed as if every swat on baby's behind would drive their tyke deeper into social and economic disaster. And besides, like smoking and driving American-made cars, spanking was something done by the great unwashed. As a result, in upscale households, spankers joined the Tontons Macoutes, SAVAK and the Khmer Rouge as naughty, unenlightened brutes. A recent U.S. News and World Report article cites a survey done last year in which "41 percent of college-educated Americans disapproved of spanking, compared with only 20 percent of those who didn't complete high school."

The effect of social class in forming opinions about corporal punishment shows, sometimes contentiously, in my own house. My wife, Jane, is the daughter of two college professors. She was raised in an academic community where alternative schools and therapists' offices were pivotal institutions in family life. Many of her parents' friends were not only psychologists, but child psychologists, like Selma H. Fraiberg, author of the landmark book "The Magic Years." While Jane was growing up in the '60s, the prevailing ethos in the diploma-saturated milieu of Ann Arbor, Mich., was markedly progressive -- children were to be related to, understood. Punishment of any sort, especially physical correction, not only was believed to be ineffective but, in fact, pernicious: Spanked kids became aggressive kids. In addition, spanking carried a bad political taint -- at a time when the dad who threw away your pot stash was a fascist, the one who fanned his kids' backsides was ... a Republican. Any coercion was disdained as a remedy for disobedience. Indeed, obedience itself was an outmoded concept. The child raised in an enlightened home compromised or cooperated, not obeyed. For Jane, this notion -- treating children as reasonable creatures whose autonomy is to be prized -- forms the bedrock of her parenting philosophy.

N E X T_ P A G E | Raising kids reflexively

 

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ILLUSTRATION BY KATHERINE STREETER

 

 


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