The Hands that Harm, the Hands that Heal
I was just listening to one of my favorite songs called “Grandma’s Hands” by Bill Withers on WXPN, and these lines jumped out at me as they always do:
“Grandma’s hands used to hand me piece of candy
Grandma’s hands picked me up each time I fell
Grandma’s hands, boy they really came in handy
She’d say, ‘Mattie, don’t you whip that boy
What you want to spank him for?
He didn’t drop no apple core,’
But I don’t have Grandma anymore
If I get to heaven I’ll look for
Even if he dropped an apple core, how does that justify hitting him?
Working with so many abuse survivors and having them among my circles, I demand to know, what gives anyone the right to hit or hurt a child? My fervent prayer is that no child should ever be afraid of an adult. I will always contend that hitting a person doesn’t teach respect. It teaches that a bigger, stronger person can control a smaller person with physical force.
I recently read an article (one of many) about the damage done when parents yell at kids as a means of discipline. There was an NPR podcast on Radio Times that focuses on the reasons why spanking is more than unhealthy for children. Both seem to me to be about the loss of control and instilling fear. Is that the kind of relationship you want with your child? Is that the kind of relationship you want them to have with their children should they choose to become parents?
We are often the best and worst role models for their future behavior. It we want our children to be able to regulate their emotions, we need to model it for them. Every day, we see examples of emotional dysregulation. We saw it recently on the Oscar stage. After much thought, I decided not to write a piece about it since there were so many nuanced aspects to address, but what stood out was that Will Smith reacted aggressively to an emotional trigger.
According to an article on WebMD, early childhood trauma, abuse, and neglect are prominent causes. Do we want to raise yet another generation of people who can’t manage their feelings and actions without getting out of control?
I have heard people offer the excuse that they were “bad kids” and “deserved” what an adult did to them in order to keep them in line or instill a sense of respect. There is a massive difference between discipline/structure and abuse/punishment. There is no excuse for striking another human being unless it is done in self-defense or to protect someone else from assault. There is no excuse for name-calling or bullying in the guise of getting someone’s behavior to fall in line. I don’t give a sh*t if you think you “turned out okay” after being exposed to those parenting dynamics.
Whenever someone justifies laying hands on another out of anger, frustration, or to invoke punishment, I ask them these questions:
If what was done to you as a child or what you do to your children were done to an adult stranger, would it be considered criminal assault? If what was done to you or what you do to your children were done instead to a neighbor’s child, could that parent press assault charges against the perpetrator? If the answer is yes, then it is abuse. Pure and simple.
That shuts them up pretty quickly.
My invitation to anyone who was struck under the guise of discipline, refrain from normalizing it, recognize the seeds it may have planted for low self-esteem, underachievement, addiction, depression, anxiety, choosing abusive or controlling partners, or being easily triggered to lash out against others. Even if you escaped those outcomes, ask yourself how you felt when punishment was being meted out. Did it make you feel good about yourself? Did you think that it would be cool to wield that kind of power against someone else since that’s what adults have the freedom to do?
If you find yourself feeling frustrated to the point that you want to lash out against a person who is helpless to defend themselves, please seek therapeutic support.
Let yours be the hands that heal and do no harm.