I get so tired when I have to explain
When you’re so far away from me
See you been in the sun and I’ve been in the rain
And you’re so far away from me — Dire Straits
I sat and stared at the screen, my mouth hanging open in shock. There were the words, in black and white, a comment made on a blog post written almost six years ago, one that I stumbled upon by sheer accident.
I was spanked as a child. I turned out fine.
There’s a difference between SPANKING and BEATING.
I rarely had to spank my kid when she was little, but she knew the option was there, so she behaved.
I guess that’s the difference.
For a moment, I felt as if the walls were closing in on me. The floor seemed to drop beneath me. My head swam. This person I thought I knew so well, who had dealt with the bullying and abuse of high school, who had seen firsthand how my mother had treated me, was advocating the exact same type of flawed discipline that my mother used. I was absolutely stunned.
Once my head stopped spinning, the rant she had posted about me so long ago made sense, in a twisted way. The gears clicked into place and I understood.
Now there’s a massive flaw with her “spanking isn’t abuse” mindset, which is there isn’t a huge difference between the two at all. The outcomes are all but the same. Not helping matters at all is the fact that most parents spank out of anger and immediately after a child misbehaves. You read that right; this isn’t a “last resort” as so many parents claim. It’s the first “disciplinary action” that they use.
But it’s almost universally accepted as a form of discipline and not abuse. Why is that? Why would this person, who I had known for so long, approve of something that causes more harm than good?
Social acceptance toward, and prevalence of, corporal punishment by parents in some countries remains high despite a growing scientific consensus that the risks of substantial harm outweigh the potential benefits. Social psychologists posit that this divergence between popular opinion and empirical evidence may be rooted in cognitive dissonance. In countries such as the US and UK, spanking is legal but overt child abuse is both illegal and highly stigmatized socially. Because of this, any parent who has ever spanked a child would find it extremely difficult to accept the research findings. If they did acknowledge, even in the smallest way, that spanking was harmful, they would likely feel they are admitting they harmed their own child and thus are a child abuser. Similarly, adults who were spanked as children often face similar cognitive dissonance, because admitting it is harmful might be perceived as accusing their parents of abuse and might also be admitting to having been victimized in a situation where they were helpless to stop it. Such feelings would cause intense emotional discomfort, driving them to dismiss the scientific evidence in favor of weak anecdotal evidence and distorted self-reflection. This is commonly expressed as “I spanked my children and they all turned out fine” or “I was spanked and I turned out fine.”
I’ve known this person for a long time. I know how she feels about her parents. To her, they are almost perfect and saintly. She simply can’t see them as flawed. She loved them, you see, so they would never, ever hurt her. There’s just one problem with that: love can actually be abusive.
My mother will say that she loved me and I’m sure she did. I’m sure she honestly believed that what she was doing was right. She hit me because she loved me. If I were to tell my mother that what she had done was abuse, that I suffered under her hands, she’d deny it. Because she did it all out of her love for me. It was all for the best; why didn’t I see it?
I’m willing to bet that this person’s parents were thinking the exact same way. That when they spanked her, they thought they were doing the right thing, the best thing for their daughter. They probably loved her dearly but didn’t think that “a few spanks” might lead to something worse or that it might cause damage. That it might destroy her trust in them, or lead to depression or other things. They probably believed that this was the best corrective course of action, just as my own mother did.
We lived through similar circumstances, she and I. To her, I couldn’t have been abused because if I had, she’d be admitting that she herself may have been injured. It’s something that I don’t think she’d ever be able to say about her mother or her father. She loved both of them, saw them as nearly perfect and her saying out loud that they might actually have the capability of harming her is simply too much. It would corrode her image of them. It’s too much for her to handle mentally.
She’d also have to concede that she might have harmed her own daughter. With as much as she loves her child, this would be impossible for her to reconcile.
This is where she and I differ, where the gulf opens and widens between us. I realize that my parents were not perfect. I understand that my mother may not have meant to hurt me but did so, despite her best intentions. But she, for whatever reason, cannot see her parents as human, as flawed individuals that made mistakes. That some of the things they did weren’t really in her best interest. She can’t reconcile that with her mental image of her immaculate mother and father.
The common ground between us has been washed away, eroded. I can’t even see her across this gap, this massive chasm that opened us and split our worlds apart. The threads that bound us seem to have snapped and this revelation was the final blade, the last severance between us.
It all started with a reactionary blog post. Sadly, it ended with this.
So far away from me
So far I just can’t see
So far away from me
You’re so far away from me