It seems that Massachusetts is considering banning the spanking of children. While I'm usually a strong proponent of individual rights, I have to admit this doesn't bother me one bit. I hope Maryland follows suit.
Back when Kevin and I were trying to become parents, we, like everyone else who wants to adopt, had to undergo a home study. A completed home study is a state's "parenting license" for people who plan to come by a child by any means other than the old-fashioned way. It involves handing over a lot of documents -- from fingerprints (which are submitted to the FBI for a criminal background check) to driving records to vaccination certificates for household pets to the results of medical exams to a statement of net worth -- to a social worker, who interviews the prospective parents extensively. The social worker asks the parents-to-be, together and separately, dozens of questions about their respective families of origin, as well as questions about how they intend to parent said child. And, yes, some people do fail home studies.
In Maryland, the home study process requires you to sign an agreement stating that you will never engage in corporal or any other form of humiliating punishment. And since Kevin and I had agreed that we would use other disciplinary methods, we gladly signed.
I've always had issues with parents hitting children, and apparently so do a lot of other smart people, including the American Academy of Pediatrics. There are good reasons for not hitting kids, and I'll leave explaining those to the experts in my links. As a lawyer, moreover, I wonder why on earth it's okay for a parent to hit her kid, but if the same parent were to hit me, I could (and would) charge her with assault and battery.
As parents, we've had great success with other methods, including our favorite, Love and Logic. Not to be one of those obnoxious bragging mothers, but my daughter's teachers just told me how much they enjoy having her in their class. Friends volunteer to sit for her. Mothers of friends comment about how she's a good influence on their kids. Strangers in restaurants -- the kind of restaurants that don't have children's menus -- have noted her good behavior. Last summer when we were on vacation in another country, the owner of one of those fancy restaurants (and a French restaurant at that!) told us we could bring her back any time.
Yes, she acts like a kid a lot of the time. She's certainly energetic, spirited and opinionated enough for three children, but she also knows who's in charge around here and who has the power to impose consequences for bad behavior. And we do.
And no, we can't take all the credit. The baby the nannies handed me in south China had already been described at age 13 months as "sweet," "smart" and "close to the nannies." So we had some pretty good material to start with.
As I've gotten older, seeing and hearing parents abusing their children in public has gotten more and more unsettling for me, and as I've gotten menopausal, I've gotten a hell of a lot more honest with people. The last couple of times it's happened in front of me -- both times in the supermarket -- I've called the mothers on it. Both times, they were trailer-parkish sorts of women in too-tight jeans and too much makeup, young enough to be my daughters. (Yes, I am a snob. Deal with it.) Both times, the discipline imposed went well beyond a whop on the butt. Both times, it involved multiple blows to the face or neck. One of the children was, in my estimation, around three years old. Both times, the scene that ensued was ugly, and I believe that only my girth and gray hair that protected me from the young woman's wrath. Both times, I had no doubt in my mind that if the mother acted that way in public, she was doing far worse in the privacy of her home. Both times, I wished fervently that if I whipped out my cell phone and called the cops, the young woman would leave the store in handcuffs and the child would leave in the custody of Child Protective Services. But that'll have to be my fantasy until the Maryland General Assembly decides to do something about it.
It's time, Maryland. It's time.