What? Mother Sentenced For Spanking Child?

Before I became a parent, I used to talk about how I would never, ever use any physical discipline of any kind on my children. And things were going great through the first couple of years of having children. And then my husband and I made the decision that we would, if called for, give what we call a “potchy” — more of a slap on the wrist than a spanking — but physical discipline none-the-less. I don’t know if all of our children will require it — or just the one who occasionally willfully defies our safety or behavioral guidance, but I have no conflicts about it. It’s used incredibly sparingly and it’s part of our discipline toolkit.

I completely respect — and in some cases am related to — people who hold to a no-spanking protocol. I also know that most of my friends will use the light swat time to time. We all have our own guidance. I don’t know about other parts of the world but in the neighborhoods I’ve lived in here in the D.C. area, I know that spanking is practiced. I’m blessed in that I’ve never seen a parent beat a child — and I’ve though about what I’d do if I did — but I see parents in the hood using physical punishment regularly.

So I was downright shocked when I read this story about a Corpus Christi judge sentencing Rosalina Gonzales to five years probation and ordered her to take parenting classes, after she admitted that she spanked her child. As this NPR story shows, the judge wasn’t even following the law in Texas.

There were no bruises on the child, no belt or implement was used and the skin on the child was not broken. The story appears to be a bit more complicated than some of the sensational headlines it’s generated. The mother did not have custody of her own children and was reported by her own mother, so we do have sufficient reason to suspect that perhaps this woman was not in a good place to to be handing out physical punishment to her kids.

That said, I found the judge’s ruling in the case sufficiently disturbing. The judge said:

“You don’t spank children today. In the old days, maybe we got spanked, but there was a different quarrel. You don’t spank children. You understand?” the judge told Gonzales.

Since when is not spanking your kids the new legally-enforced cultural norm? I understand that not everyone approves of spanking or corporal punishment for young kids, and that’s fine. People can make their own decisions when it comes to raising their kids.

Who in the world is this judge to say that? Is it because the mother is Mexican? Why did he even say this? He doesn’t have the law on his side, as noted above. And I feel deeply uncomfortable about something that’s been the near-universal method of parental discipline for millenia getting dragooned to the nearest courthouse because some judge decided we’re better off in the era the era of if-you-do-it-again-I’m-taking-away-your-Xbox-and-I-know-I’ve-said-this-before-but-this-time-I-really-mean-it parental discipline. I confess that part of the reason I spank my kids is that — in my personal judgment! — I don’t see kids better behaved and better equipped to succeed as a result of the sudden emphasis on not damaging children’s self-esteem. (And besides studies show that kids who have been spanked may have sunnier dispositions any way.)

Maybe you disagree, but I think a lack of discipline is often more damaging to a child than too much. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this. While I don’t endorse, for instance, all of the parenting methods “tiger mom” Amy Chua, I think one of the main reasons she caused such a stir is that many parents either secretly agree with her that children are coddled too much or might have reasons to be defensive about their own lax parenting.

Again, I want to stress I’m not passing judgment — I know plenty of well-adjusted, successful adults and children that were never physically disciplined. But I will say that consistent, and at times, strict discipline in whatever form is essential to raising a good child in my judgment. How the parents do that is their own business — and that includes the sensible application of corporal punishment.

It’s nice to see that the NPR commenters seem to share that general feeling. Or as one put it “There is a major difference between protecting children from an abusive parent and interceding in the parenting decisions of citizens.”

Perhaps this Texas judge needs a time out.

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