Our two wonderful daughters were born just a few years after publication of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book, “Baby and Child Care.” Fortunately, for our family, neither my wife nor I ever read it. According to an article in Wikipedia, Spock was the first pediatrician to study psychoanalysis to try to understand children’s needs and family dynamics. One of his purported teachings which would then be 180 degrees contrary to mine and those of my wife (and now also of our grown children and of their children) was that parents should be more flexible and affectionate with their children, and to treat them as individuals. In a nutshell, it is my understanding that Dr. Spock was against parents spanking their children. The previous conventional wisdom that my parents and most other parents of my generation believed was that child rearing should focus on building discipline. Our parents (and we) believed in lots of love, constant attention, and mutual respect mixed in with occasional discipline when necessary.
Never having read a word of Dr. Spock’s book, I would not attempt to criticize any of it – only to report what went on in our family. As our little girls were growing up, we would occasionally hear other parents saying: “Dr. Spock says you should not spank your children… You should talk to them instead… ” We would courteously listen, but continued in our old ways that had been taught to us by our very old-fashioned Moms and Dads – which was “Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child.”
My twenty-five years of experience in the field of transportation management will never qualify me to speak intelligently on the subject of child care or psychoanalysis. However, having grown up with the fear of reprisal (spanking) if I misbehaved, I can say unequivocally that this one particular fear sticks with you for a long long time. In my case, I can remember back almost eighty years (yes, 80 big ones) when my aunt slapped me right across the face for something I did. It must have been some serious bit of misbehavior (even though I don’t remember what it was that I did wrong) but I sure remember the punishment. So, I (and my wife) put that bit of remembrance to work as we taught our own little ones what would happen if they did not act properly. It is amazing how well it worked for us – and for them. Early in their young lives we calmly explained our philosophy to them – be naughty, ignore the instructions of either Mom or Dad, cause harm or serious distress to brother or sister or anyone, and you will be spanked. Here comes the critical part: Since Dad was away at work during the day, and Mom was able to control her temper during a child’s act worthy of discipline, she would calmly tell the culprit, “Dear, what you have just done merits a spanking that will be administered to you at the spanking chair tonight when your Daddy gets home from work.” Now, if that mischievous act took place early in the day, the child had hours to worry about the upcoming punishment that was sure to occur. Believe me – the anticipation was considerably worse than the actual spanking when it did finally get delivered. My theory, therefore, is this: “A slap or a spanking at the instant of bad behavior does not last as long – it is soon forgotten. Or, if remembered at all, it was that Mommy or Daddy lost their temper that day.”
Now, here comes the funny part: One evening, upon returning home after work, my wife told me that our youngest daughter had been naughty earlier in the day, and that our little girl was already waiting for me to go with her to the spanking chair. As the little one positioned herself over the arm of the sofa, ready for her punishment, but still pleading her case, I lifted her skirt ready to administer my usual harmless slap or slaps to her posterior. The sight that greeted me (and I quickly called my wife to have her see it) was the outline of one of the children’s Golden Books beneath her panties. No human on this earth, with any compassion in his soul, could have spanked that little girl that night. I was no exception. Mommy and I laughed and cried at the same time; and I even tear up now as I write this story.
Incidentally, I think our spanking chair was probably gone by the time our son was born. So, he probably didn’t suffer too much anticipation or even receive the spankings that he might have deserved. He was a hellion – one of those described in the old nursery rhyme that goes something like: “What are little boys made of? Snips and snails, and puppy-dogs’ tails. That’s what little boys are made of.” No need to quote the rest of it. We all know that little girls are made of sugar and spice, and everything nice.
Maurice Chevalier, in the movie Gigi, sure had it right as he sang that beautiful song, “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” Just another remembrance that stays with you forever.