Monday, December 14, 2009

This Is Why I Don't Spank

It was well past bedtime. Justin wasn't home, Mia was sick and cranky, Lauren was joyfully dumping graham cracker crumbs in the hallway. I wasn't at the end of my rope, but I could see the end of my rope. It was frazzled and whipping in the wind created by the tornado of my two counter-pressured daughters.

Mia had a tummy ache, the same one she's had off and on for a few days now. After hearing her describe the pain and seeing her body's contortions, I started to wonder if she was suffering from heartburn. I don't have any idea if there's a product for 4 year olds that would help her, but I knew that whatever it was, I didn't have it and I couldn't get it. Both girls had been stripped down, waiting for their pajamas, and we weren't about to leave the house again. So I pulled out the best remedy I knew of for heartburn: milk.

Except, Mia hates milk. She gags. Refuses. Cries.

I thought about making chocolate milk, but I didn't know if that would somehow counteract the neutralizing properties of plain milk. I poured a small amount into a tiny medicine cup, hoping to make it more palatable. Or, if not more palatable, at least more interesting. Medicine! We love medicine!

Except, Mia knew it was milk. She screamed. Refused. Cried.

The more she refused, the harder I tried to convince her of the goodness of milk. A tiny bit of milk. Lauren and I both took harmless sips; she dislikes milk as well, but the medicine cup trick worked in her case. See? I said. Now it's your turn. Just a few quick sips, and we'll go to bed. But Mia's mouth was closed tight, tears streaming from her eyes. She begged not to take the milk. I had no idea what else to do, but seeing her writhing in pain was more than I could stand. She had to have this milk. If for no other reason than to see if it was just heartburn, or something that needed a call to the nurse's hotline.

Do you want a spanking? I asked, because that's what I'll do if you don't drink this right now. You HAVE to drink this. Just a tiny bit.

Mia was beyond reason, though. She promised she'd rather have a spanking than the milk. I cursed my thoughtless warning. I'm not someone who is comfortable with spanking. I don't do it. I have before, but I've come away from those situations feeling like it was the wrong decision for me to make, and I wouldn't do it again. It crossed a line somewhere within me, and I hated what it left behind. And in those times, I was angry. In this case, I wasn't even angry: just hopeless. I had no hope for convincing her do take the milk. This wasn't a simple order she was disobeying, like, go pick up your toys. This wasn't a power struggle. This was the forced ingestion of something on which she gags. But I felt I had no other choice. I wanted her tummy to feel better, so I spanked her.

The faulty reasoning here is so apparent that it's blinding me: I want her pain to go away -- so I cause her another sort of pain. This is what I see as mistake number one, threatening her with a spanking as a means to ease her pain. Again, though, I had no idea how else to solve the problem. My creative-mom moments had been depleted by the end of the day, and I couldn't see any way out.

Mistake number two: Lauren watched what was happening. After my quick swat on Mia's behind, Lauren stepped up happily and hit her again. Because mom was doing it, it must be OK, right?! Let's ALL hit Mia!! And how on earth do I tell my child NO HITTING, when she's just witnessed me hitting? I don't care that a 'spank' is technically different than a 'hit': a child doesn't see any contrast. I ushered Lauren out of the room, closing the door on my shameful use of force. Granting myself privacy to continue.

I cradled Mia in my lap, wiping her tears and begging her to drink the milk. I pleaded and reasoned and cajoled. I sweet talked and promised and explained. She still refused. I spanked her again. She jumped, but held tighter to me, the person she trusted most in the world to love and care for her. She was clinging to me while I tried to break her fragile will to match my own. I closed my eyes against my own tears -- tears of disbelief over what I was doing -- tears for the pain I was causing her -- tears for her innocent (misplaced?) trust in me.

When she'd endured my third spanking, my third betrayal of her trust, she sobbed to me, I don't like the spanking! She finally drank the 2 teaspoons of milk, gagging on the last sip. I held her for a long time then, hoping to surround her with warmth and love. Not that it wasn't there all along, but how would she have known that? You can tell a child, this hurts me more than it hurts you, but what child will ever, ever believe that until they're parents themselves?

She asked to go lay down in her bed, still without pajamas on, still catching her breath from crying, and I covered her up to rest while I put Lauren to bed. When I returned 15 minutes later, she was calm. She was smiling and hugging me. Her tummy felt better, she said. She made goofy faces through blotchy, swollen eyes. The milk had worked, and quicker than I'd imagined. I made a big to-do about the magic milk being good for a tummy ache, hoping she would remember its relief if we needed to use it again. We read stories, cuddled and sang, prayed and kissed, and said goodnight.

I walked out of her room, still in an emotional tornado, but this time it was of my own creation. I am a terrible mother. There had to have been a better way. Her innocent trust, so willingly bestowed yet so easily shattered, is not something I want to break with my confused parenting choices.

This is why I don't spank.

Note: Please don't read into this more than it is: a simple road into my thoughts. The same reason for which most of my blog is written. I don't think YOU are a bad parent if you spank. I don't really think about it that much. I believe we all do whatever we can to be the best parents we know how to be. I'm not judging anybody but myself. And I'm also not looking for anyone to condone my decisions or make me feel better. This was just something I needed to get out of my head. But I wouldn't mind hearing your tricks for getting your kids to take unwanted medicine (or milk)! Thanks for listening.


  1. Oh, that was heartbreaking. We've all had moments where our tunnel vision blocks out everything else. She'll forgive you faster than you'll forgive yourself. Re: the heartburn, though -- will she eat a spoonful of cream cheese? Cottage cheese? Yogurt? something else that's milky? Or - I don't know if you can get these where you are but I have an issue with taking too much calcium so I can't take Tums for heartburn. Papaya is a natural antacid and natural foods stores sell papaya tablets that work great and taste good, too. Just get the all-papaya ones, not the papaya-mint, because even I think those are really yucky ; )
    Good luck!

  2. I think spanking can be a viable disciplinary tool if done right -- but I won't go into that, don't worry :)

    I'm intrigued that Mia doesn't drink milk -- because Lily HATES it and I've tried everything I can think to change that -- I feel guilty because isn't she missing out on some vital calories and nutrients? But obviously Mia is doing fine without it! Do you just try to give her dairy products in different forms? Please enlighten me :)

  3. I have struggled with my kids to take medicine over the years. they all hate it. Not one of them will voluntarily take it.

    But giving medicine is something we are doing to help our child so I don't feel guilty about it. I don't give a choice. There is no choice for medicine (not criticizing since I used to say the same sort of things as you did in this case...).

    I say its time for medicine. if they don't open up and agree then, I hold my child down as much as I can, put fingers on her mouth to make fishy lips and hold them in place then shove it in until they swallow then release the fishy lips...this does work. As long as you hold the fish face they can't spit it out.

    yes it seems torturous but really giving medicine is helping our kids not hurting them at all.

  4. Noteverstill - Mia is pretty averse to most dairy. Yogurt is the exception, but the only kind she'll eat is sugary gogurt. Do you know if the sugary stuff will work as well? And I like your papaya tablet advice...thank you!

    Amy - Mia liked milk until she was about two years old. She's never been big on cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese...most dairy is out. I try to load her up on yogurt, and sometimes she'll drink a little chocolate milk via ovaltine. Recently she's coming around to shredded mozzarella. Only shredded, only mozzarella. Try to sneak in some Jack cheese? She sniffs it out. Any melted cheese is a no go. We're confused -- gooey cheesy things are so GOOD! I'm hoping that as she grows older, she'll slowly come around. I think most of it is a textural issue, though, so I don't know. We shall see.

  5. Regarding the dairy aversion, my boys are the exact opposite. They guzzle milk. Devour yogurt and cheese products (even the gooey, melty kind! Actually, I think they prefer it gooey and melty...)

    I applaud you for sharing this story. Spanking is one of those hot potato subjects that I am much too frightened to tackle on my own blog. It is a great comfort to me that you said many things I've thought myself on the negative side of spanking. As always, the love and careful consideration you've put into the decision are evident.

  6. That sounds so stressful - mommy guilt never ever ends, does it?

    Could you try something like crackers or plain bread? It wouldn't neutralize the acid like milk, but it might absorb some of it, is what I've always been told.

  7. Lucy - I tried bread a few nights before, when the same thing (from what I could see) was happening. It didn't seem to do much. Rather, it helped, but she was still up all night with pain. Then it didn't happen again, so I didn't think about looking for antacids again. When clearly, I should have.

    But this all makes me wonder: is it normal for 4 year olds to have heartburn, if indeed that's what this is? Is a call to the doctor warranted?

  8. I have no idea if this will work in the future or not, but to give my kids liquids they don't like I put them in a syringe and shoot it in. There is something about having it shoot in there that they like, plus it bypasses most of their tongue and they don't taste it as much.

    Those power struggles are the absolute worst. Period.

  9. I agree with happygeek - a syringe squirt to the back of the throat while executing a choke-hold gets it down every time.

    (I have not had to use this often because my kids have a freakish love for medicine, but I did have to do it when Lauren drank a bottle of liquid acetaminophen. She drew the "love the medicine" line at drinking activated charcoal. Can't say I blame her. But, I did discover that a giant syringe and choke-hold is a magical combination.)

    Has she been for her four year-old checkup yet? I would just mention it to the dr then rather than making a special appointment if she has that coming up anyway.

  10. Also, will she eat ice cream? Being a milk-hater myself, I use ice cream for heartburn. Just a couple of bites helps.

  11. Becky - DOH! Ice cream! Of COURSE she loves ice cream! *filing away*

  12. I think that I came as close as one can to feeling your pain while reading this. I do not yet have children, but I am quite convinced that spanking is not something I want to try.

    I am glad that your daughter was able to stomach the milk. I remember my mother (who wasn't quite as into spanking as my father, though they both relied on it a lot) once bribing me to eat cottage cheese. The bribe combined with the threat was good enough, so I ate, and promptly vomited.

  13. Thank you for sharing something so personal with all of us! My boys are milk lovers and dairy is no exception, so we deal more with the lack of coming out of the bottom issues than heartburn. Tyler has gotten it a few times and we have let him chew one Tums (however he was 6 at the time, a big age difference I know). I recently read that you can make peppermint milk with a few drops of peppermint extract and by whipping some of it to a froth to add to the top with crushed candy canes, maybe a special "treat" would get her to drink some. We have not tried it so I don't know if it takes good. Well, good luck to you! I have read some really good tips on your comments!

  14. Do you think she'd drink a cup of green tea (weak, decaf, with honey) after dinner? Or maybe eat some fresh cucumber slices with her meal? I think those are both supposed to soothe the stomach and aid digestion. Ice cream is a good idea too. I've even heard that licorice (DGL) can have a beneficial effect over time.

    For prevention (you probably already know all this, but just in case): have her eat small, frequent meals, and make sure she eats slowly. No carbonated beverages. Avoid citrus. Possibly give her a larger meal in the afternoon and then something lighter, like a bowl of quinoa, for dinner. And make sure she wears loose clothing when she eats and plays quiet games (but doesn't lie down) for a little while once she's finished.

    Does she experience heartburn often? If so, you might try keeping a food journal to see if there's a certain food that triggers it. If it were me, I'd probably look into some homeopathic treatments too, and I'd definitely take her to see the doctor for advice--and to rule out any underlying problems.

    As for the spanking, it sounds like you were at your wit's end, on your own, and trying desperately to help your little girl. We all make decisions we regret as mothers. This story, as heartbreaking as it is, shows a really good mom on a really bad day. Take a deep breath. Give those girls some extra cuddles. Talk to the doctor. And don't worry, everything's gonna be okay.

  15. Well Sarah, as you often do, you have used an example that shines the truth on the true nitty-gritty trials (and joys) of parenthood.

    FYI: Milk has long been toted as a great antacid because it neutralizes on contact, HOWEVER - it actually causes the stomach to release MORE natural acids to break it down. (I'm an RN who took did a whole research presentation on this topic!) Therefore, it "works" initially, but for someone struggling with severe/chronic heartburn it's not your first choice. Now, for Mia I would say you picked the right weapon - a simple, isolated event that you were guessing heartburn would have made me reach for a comfort-coating substance, too. It did no damage. In the future it may help (on multiple levels) to try 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda with water. (Hey, then it really is more like medicine!) But if it happens more than once in a great while then talk to your doc.

    Motherhood is a heart-wrenching life, isn't it? We do things that we see as the best/only option, and then over-analyze ourselves. We just keep giving them love and they'll be even better off in our growth process.

  16. This was such a good post. Thanks for sharing this with the rest of us moms so we know we're not the only ones that struggle with mom-guilt. I don't think you're a bad mom at all. You were doing it out of love and trying to help her feel better. The sting of a spank lasts just a few moments, but the ache of heartburn can last all night!

    I love the syringe idea! I've never even thought of that!

  17. I'm one of those people who is okay with spanking, but I think you're right in your choice not to spank, specifically because of how you've described your kids. You have little girls with tender hearts that are very responsive. It seems to me that many other things get across a point to your girls. Different kids require different approaches. The point is to teach and train, right? Well, each child learns differently, and you know well how to work with your sweet girls.

  18. Thanks so much for being so honest. I rarely spank, for much the same reasons. Still, it is hard to admit to the internet that we are weak and unsure sometimes, in our parenting. I'm so glad she felt better soon. And I have no tips for next time. :(

  19. I know what you mean. I grew up in a house that spanked, and it worked ok for them. But I don't like spanking, I've done it, but it doesn't work for me. After all you are never supposed to spank if you are tired or angry, and it seems that is the only times I have ended up spanking! If other discipline will work just fine when I'm not tired or angry, it works when I am tired or angry too!


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?