We all need somebody to lean on

What's disturbing me today besides the obvious, R's last day of work, which I won't even comment on because I'll get weepy, is this:  The men in my work group believe in child abuse as an appropriate parenting strategy.  I know.

 (Okay, a tiny comment about R. without getting too weepy, is that I've worked with her now for 10 years, and we've gone through 2 divorces (mine, hers), spent thousands of hours driving around King County together, dealt with hundreds of freaky people, and in general, I've probably spent more time with her than anyone on the planet in the past decade, and I will miss her like a hand.  May the road rise up to meet you, R.)

I'm in my stupid cube, minding my own business, and can't help but overhear one guy talk about how he was smacking his 4 year old who had colored on the bedroom wall with a crayon.  I tried to ignore it, but it was pretty disturbing, especially when B., who has no kids that we know of, piped in, "yeah, I'd smack the shit out of that kid.  I totally respected my dad, and he would have beat the crap out of me if I did anything like that.  He used to beat me, and I totally respected him."

I didn't say, um that's fear, B., which is a whole different thing than respect.  It didn't seem worth it, so instead, I said to the actual father, "See?  You don't want your kid to turn out like B., do you?  There are other strategies…"

Suddenly, 4 men were in my cubicle, defending violence against children, which I have to say came as quite a surprise, and not the good kind.  I was eventually able to focus back in on my little excel spreadsheet, and our boss called me in to his office to discuss the numbers, which I'm fairly interested in.  Okay, obsessed with might be more accurate, but let's leave that out of this story.

"S., before we delve into the data, may I comment on how disturbing it is around here?

“More so than usual?

"Yes.  The boys are pro-child abuse."

"??"

"Yep."  I explained how it started, and then the even more disturbing part, which is that one of the men, who was actually married to an attorney for a long time and has a child, gave me the old spiel about how violence delivered not in anger, but in a ritualistic way, is a benefit to the child, and it’s our obligation to spank them in order to teach them.  I should have shooed him out of the cubicle then and there, but instead, I took the bait, and said violence delivered to a small child in anger is horrible but potentially understandable, but pre-mediated violence against a small child is just super creepy and wrong, and has absolutely no place in an educated society, to which he responded that the children depend on us to set limits and the best way to do that is by spanking them, and I said that another name for that would be bullying, and it went like that until he said, hey, can I look at your charts?  Which I would normally perceive as a huge olive branch because he could care less about the charts but knows I'm obsessed with them, but I didn't even feel like accepting it, violating one of my personal rules, which is that life only hands you so many olive branches, and if you piss all over them, life kind of gives up on you.  It’s just wrong to not accept a peace offering, wrong on so many levels, but still, I wouldn’t let him see my chart.  I know.

My boss gets that familiar look, and says, "Betsy, I really admire how hopeful you are in the face of everything."  Which is code for "Jesus, you're naive.  How can you be so simple-minded and still create these lovely charts?"

The whole thing just made me sad, because I guess I didn’t realize that educated people still believe in spanking.   Not just as a thing that happens when a parent is exhausted, overwhelmed, and frustrated, but as an actual strategy. I thought educated people would be aware of things, like how the American Association of Pediatrics, that radical group, doesn’t endorse spanking ever, and how studies have documented that violence begets violence (shocking, I know), and children who are the victims of spanking are more likely to become aggressive bullies themselves, and so on.

But besides all of the research, I just want to say this.  Our children deserve for us to be their biggest fans, and to love them no matter what, and to find things to love about them even when it’s hard.  Hard for us because we’re exhausted and busy and irritated, because yes, young people can be so irritating.  And hard for them because the world is so big and complicated, and they aren’t sure yet who they are or what they care about, and they need us to study them carefully, and remind them what’s unique and amazing about them when they can’t see it, and help them see when they need a nap or a snack, or a better plan, because it’s each of our jobs to figure out what makes us able to cope.

They deserve for us to help them find the path to being civilized decent people by tramping that path down ourselves, and gently inviting them to come along.  We need to apologize to them when we don’t measure up, so they can see that we’re struggling to do the best we can, and it’s not always quite good enough, but we’re trying.

They need us to be empathetic, because empathy begets empathy too, and we would all be better off with more of that in the world.  We need to say, in an age appropriate way, oh, sweetie, your behavior suggests that you’re suffering.  What might you do to take care of yourself, and what do you need from me on that, because I hate to see you in pain.  And it sounds true to them because it is, and because they’re used to seeing us trying our hardest to be kind and decent.  That’s what our kids need, not being smacked or humiliated when they fail, which we all do.

That’s all for my preachy rant.  Thanks for indulging me.

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  2. Oh, Betsy I so agree. What happens with punishment is that it has the opposite effect of what the punisher intends: the punishee ends up without responsibility for their actions.

    It sounds like the troglodytes you described have so thoroughly buried their own feelings and built such a thorough belief system of "what's right" that any counter view just can't be considered. I feel for you m'dear!

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