push-over: confessions of a child-beater

One of the things I don't like about myself is that I'm kind of a push-over, easily swayed by the opinions and desires of other people. I'm a pleaser, see, and I'll go to insane lengths to make sure you and I are cool.

Need me to drop what I'm doing and drive you to Texas for an armadillo-chucking contest? Uh, sure... I'll see what I can work out. I'm sure the boss won't mind.

This isn't good, but what's even worse is the fear that I'm going to pass this tendency on to my kid. The whole "sins of the father being visited unto the third generation" sorta thing.

I no longer think I have anything to worry about.

A couple days ago, I attempt to put my four-year-old boy down for a nap (For the record, this phrase "putting the kid down" always reminds me of putting a dog down, which is something different entirely, because you do it with a shotgun when the kids aren't there. But, on with the story). The Kid decides that not only does he not want a nap, but he also wants to make this an opportunity to Assert his Independence.

The first thing he does is to immediately claim to want to take "Option B."

In our family, if The Kid doesn't take a nap, he has to Go To Bed Early. It's more a consequence than an option, but on this day, he decides he's going to pre-emptively go for the gold.

"I just want an early bed time," he says.

And I say, "No."

He tries a couple more times, then stops because I'm giving him a really stern, authoritarian look. At least, that's why I think he stops. The real reason is, he's re-considering his strategy.

Several minutes go by, and I keep hearing the faintest of humming coming from his room. Every time I get up and walk across to his doorway, however, the humming stops. Crafty.

Finally, I've had enough. I open the door, go in, and lay down the law.

"But I don't want to go to bed now," he rebuts.


I give The Kid my firmest "Too Bad," leave, and wait for the inevitable.

"I have to go to the bathrooooooom!"

Yup. There it is.

Now, if you're a parent, you know that not letting a child go to the bathroom just because he's lying about it is pretty much always a very bad idea. Children understand that bodily fluids are some of the most potent weapons in their arsenal, and they will quickly find a way to turn that lie into a reality, should you choose to call their bluff.

Various bathroom-related stall tactics ensue, but I finally do get him back into bed.

"I don't want to take a nap!" he yells.

"Too bad," I say, with calm determination and perfect equanimity (cue SuperDad soundtrack).

And then he says - no word of a lie - "Are we going to have a contest?"

When I don't reply, he begins to repeat "I don't want to I don't want to I don't want to" ad-literally-nauseum, until I have no choice but to get up from the couch, storm into his room, and very calmly inform him that if he doesn't stop talking, put his head on his pillow, and pull his blanket over his body, then there will be spanks.

Like, for reals. 

You have to understand that I really don't like spanking, so I typically don't make that threat if he's actually doing anything wrong. Normally, I pick humorous opportunities to threaten spanking, bend him over my knee, and then ask in my sternest voice if he wants "a big spanking or a little one." He inevitably chooses "little one," we negotiate a bit on number of little spanking, and then I administer said punishment within the bounds of infinite jest. It's one of the many wonderful things I learned from my own dad.

I'm conflicted, see, about the whole idea of violence as punishment.  Violence is something I'd much rather discourage in my son. As a "qualified pacifist," I'd rather not have him learn that violence is something you get to use over less powerful people in order to get them to do what you want. I don't think tradition and some mis-quoted Bible verses gets me a pass on this one.

Nonetheless, there are times when there really is a behavioral issue and nothing else seems to be working. Sending him to his room for a time out, for example, doesn't work if he's already in his room, under covers.

So this time I threaten him with a beating and, get this, he calls my bluff. Well, my sort of bluff.

"Just give me the spanking now," he says.

"No," I reply, "This is rest time. I want you to be quiet, and if you don't I will come back and give you a Big Spanking."

"I'm not gonna be quiet," he says, a big cake-eating grin on his face, "so just give me the spanking now."

"I don't want to." I say. "It's going to be a Big Spanking, and it's going to hurt."

"Do it," he says, rolling over onto his face and showing me his little bum. 


The Universe collapses to a point somewhere between my eyes.

This is it: one of those capital "M" Moments, where if you make the wrong choice, twenty years down the road The Kid's gonna be lying on some therapist's couch, crying his eyes out. And here's the kicker... you don't know what the wrong choice is!!!

Spanking The Kid might feel vindictive and violent and wrong; but letting him win a contest of wills could mean that he'll grow up "following his own star" like some bratty Californian coddle-kid, and inevitably riding his bike in front of the ice cream truck of destiny, just because he thinks listening to my cries of "Stop, or you'll DIE!" is optional.

I cross my metaphorical fingers and swat him twice. 

The first time it's still a Little Spanking, but I brazen up and the second one actually hurts. I know it hurts, because he flinches a bit... surprised. My four-year-old is normally an easy crier, but when he flips back over, he still has that infuriating, cake-eating grin on his face.

"See. I didn't cry," he says, and so help me... it was all I could do to keep from giving the little Monster a high-five.


  1. "Children understand that bodily fluids are some of the most potent weapons in their arsenal, and they will quickly find a way to turn that lie into a reality, should you choose to call their bluff." Oh so true, so true. This whole post just made me laugh and nod ruefully.

  2. Gladja got a chuckle, E.

    Better to laugh than to cry, eh?


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