My son and I did some growing this past week. He did something I didn’t approve of and I could only get him to stop by threatening to take away a privilege if he didn’t. He got very upset, which caught me a little off-guard. It didn’t begin as a contentious conversation: I had spoken calmly and explained why we were having the conversation, what had happened, what needed to change going forward and why. He looked at with tears brimming at the edges of his eyes and said, “Mom, I feel like when you correct me you are saying you don’t love me.” Whoa, I thought, I did not see that coming. I could understand him getting upset that he might lose his toys or, getting upset that we were having a tense discussion but thinking I didn’t love him? What was that about?
I took a deep breath. I was suddenly reminded of something that had happened when I was eight years old. I had done something wrong and my punishment was to be spanked (spanking was commonplace when I was growing up) by my father. I recall getting called into my parents’ bedroom after my mom had debriefed my father on the situation. I reluctantly walked into their room and my dad was sitting in a chair by the side table. He looked like he was exhausted from work and disappointed that he now had to deal with an unruly child instead of getting to relax. I was normally a very timid child but something came over me that day and I told my father I hated him before he could even saying a word or lay a hand on me. He was shocked. “Why would you say that?” he asked to which I replied, “I know you enjoy spanking us.” Honestly, I’m not sure I even believed what I was saying, but since it was my parents’ choice to spank my sisters and I, I figured they must get some joy out of it. My father took me on his lap and said, “I don’t take any joy at all in spanking you. Do you know why your Mother and I do this?” I shook my head. He went on to explain, “We do this because we are trying to teach you a lesson. You broke a rule today, right?” I nodded my head. “And you know that if you do that it’s not acceptable, right?” I nodded my head again. “Well, your Mother and I have to do something about it, otherwise, what’s to stop you from doing it again?” This made the light bulb go on for me. It was the first time I really understood why spankings in our house took place. It was a seminal conversation between my father and I and it changed our relationship going forward. I still ended up getting a spanking, but it was only a light tap on the behind. Honestly, that was the last time I can remember my dad spanking me. Maybe it’s simply my retroactive interpretation, but I think he knew the importance of making sure I understood what was expected of me and what would happen if I didn’t meet those expectations, it was clear we needed to communicate about what was happening and why.
Coming out of my reverie, I took another breath and told my son, “Honey, one of my jobs is to teach you things. I do this because I do care. I love you and I want you to be the best person you can be. If I didn’t care, I would let you do whatever you want whenever you wanted.” He got a big grin on his face similar to the look I must have had when the light bulb came on for me with my father. “Mom,” he said, “I love you.” “I love you too,” I said.
In the end I felt lucky to have had the opportunity for my son and I to better understand each other.
Happy Mother’s Day!