No, I do not know the right way to do all those mommy things. During my pregnancy I read volumes of books on raising children. I thought I knew exactly what to expect and what I should do. I soon realized that I was completely unprepared …
My own upbringing was very old school. I am talking way, way old school. I was raised primarily by my grandmother and my great-grandmother. I attended the same Catholic school that they attended and was taught by the same nuns that taught my mother and her mother before her (I was literally taught by the very same nun who taught my mother and grandmother). Theirs was not a touchy, feely, make-your-own-choices style of parenting. It was very much a; these are the rules and you will follow them, kind of parenting. There were actions, consequences and repercussions, period. Punishment included, but was not limited to: kneeling on rice, kneeling on rice while holding books, being switched with the limbs of a willowy Crepe Myrtle tree, going to bed without dinner and the dreaded, confessing your sins before the entire congregation with visible remorse being shown. Punishment for breaking rules was swift and sure. The worst offenses were deceit, disrespect and defiance. These were the things that got the undivided attention of all of my parental figures. They also got you multiple punishments.
When I had my own child I had already decided to be a different type of parent. I knew that there were other ways of parenting. I just needed to educate myself on a more modern approach to parenting. And so I began reading everything I could get my hands on. Never mind that my life didn’t seem to be following the text. I was going to stick with it.
When my eldest son was a little over a year and a half I moved in with my mother during a cross-country move. My husband’s job had re-located us. One morning as I wrestled with my son for a pair of car keys he decided to take it to the next level. He bit me. I mean, he bit a chunk out of my chest, bit me. According to the book I was reading; what he needed, but couldn’t verbalize was a good hug. And so I gave him a kiss on the forehead, told him “Mommy loves you, but biting hurts so you must not do that.” And I gave him a hug. My mother, who was sitting next to me, asked why I was hugging him. I began to explain the principle and theory of the book I was reading on raising a happy child. She asked me if she could see this marvel of child rearing. I ran and got it and handed it over to her. Mom read the cover, the back and the inner cover.
My son grabbed the keys again. This time when I took them away from him he growled at me and punched me in the face. My mother looked at me as I hugged my son and asked me if I realized that the person whose advice I was taking on child rearing was a New York City psychologist (gasp) who had never married, had no children, and had never raised a child of his own. I explained to her as I continued to wrestle with my son that knowledge doesn’t always have to be from experience, but that other knowledge is also valuable. My son tried to bite me again. My mother looked at me like I had grown another head. She then looked my son directly in the eye and very calmly said to him in her sweet, southern voice, “Honey, if you don’t settle down right now and stop all this foolishness, I am gonna light your little ass up. Do you understand me?” He looked at her with wide dark eyes and immediately quieted. I explained to her that he was responding to her tone and temperament and not the words because he couldn’t understand them at his age, according to the book.
Mom told me to give him back the keys so we could try a little experiment. I was eager to prove how right I was and so I complied. We gave my little angel the keys and then I asked for them back. He ignored me and when I gently removed them from his grasp he tried to bite me again. My mother intervened and very gently said “You had better not do that.” He stopped instantly. We gave him the keys again. This time my mother asked for the keys and was ignored. She got close to him and said softly, “I am going to take those keys and if you act up I am gonna whoop your little behind.” He promptly handed her the keys and smiled. My mother looked at me and told me to go and get her a good green switch from her Crepe Myrtle tree. I told her that I was not going to let her use a switch on my son … “The switch is not for him”, she said. “Someone in this house needs a good spanking and it is not your son. You teach people how to treat you Darlin, and you are teaching him to treat you poorly and with disrespect. If you choose to behave badly in my house it becomes my business and I am not having it. I won’t tolerate his disrespect or your condoning it, so just run along Bebe and bring me that switch.”
I threw away that book on child rearing and took a page out of my mother’s book. The next time my son hit me was the last time, thanks to that good green switch from my mother’s Crepe Myrtle tree.