The Stupidest Struggle Ever: How I Stooped to My Child’s Level

Today I spanked my child for the first time.

Now, I know that there are two distinct camps when it comes to spanking, and there’s not a whole lot of middle ground. There are those who believe that spanking teaches children a definitive lesson about their behavior – don’t do it again or here’s what will happen – and there are those who see spanking as hypocritical and confusing, particularly when using it to reinforce a point about children exhibiting aggressive behavior toward others. While I have always belonged to the second group, my three-year-old has brought me to the verge of spanking more than once.

Those who are merely acquainted with Maggie in social settings express doubt when I tell them what a you-know-what she can be. In public she is generally a darling, acting shy at first but eventually dazzling onlookers with her adorable giggle and unusual perceptiveness. But in our home, especially when we are out of our typical school year routine, she is an expert button-pusher. (Quick aside: Not that I’m big into astrology, but October 7th, her birthday, is listed in this birthday book I have as the Day of Defiance. It’s proven accurate even from the time she was about eighteen months old, when she was told that if she put her feet on the dinner table she would be removed and the meal would be over. She quickly figured out what to do when she didn’t feel like sitting at the table anymore…)

Anyway, I thought our day was starting out pretty well. The kids slept in until 7:30. I managed to feed them breakfast quickly enough to usher everybody into the car and head to the gym so I could enjoy a yoga class. We came home and they played outside while I weeded the mulch beds. So far, so good. I had planned to take them to meet up with some friends at the small water park at the Y after nap time, but lo and behold, neither child was really in the mood for a nap. Despite my better judgment, I forged ahead. Quoting my neighbor, who had suggested going to Waterworks, “The thought of them hanging inside the rest of the day was giving me hives.” I packed everything we would need, got the baby in her swimsuit, and focused on getting Maggie ready to go. If only it were that easy.

The struggle began over something completely idiotic. For about the past year, getting Maggie dressed has been the least favorite part of my day. The child has literally 25 dresses hanging in her closet, and while she has probably worn each of them at least once, it chafes me that she wants to wear the same stupid two every single day. It doesn’t matter if someone she loves bought her an outfit or sewed it for her themselves, she cannot be convinced to wear something that she doesn’t want to wear. As I have stated before, I am a woman of principle. I do not believe in wastefulness, and I have a problem with the fact that time and money have been spent on giving her things that she refuses to use. As a result, every day I attempt to steer her away from those same two dresses and try to get her to wear something she doesn’t usually wear. This is the way it normally ends: she may agree to try something on, but after about five seconds she starts clawing at it, claiming that some very specific thing is wrong with it: it’s too tight, too big, not long enough, she doesn’t like the buttons or the way it feels. Then she goes completely boneless and basically can’t function like a human being again until I remove the offending garment.

I understand that my ideals about clothing use are far beyond the ability of a three-year-old to grasp, yet I can’t stop trying. So, today, in the midst of getting her changed into her bathing suit to go to the Y, I grabbed a tank top and skirt from her drawers and stared to toss them into the bag so she would have something dry to wear when she was done swimming. My precious child snatched them from my hand and threw them across the room, screaming, “No! Not those ones! I’m going to choose them!”

An hour later she was eating cookies
and kissing on her sister. Jekyll and Hyde much?

This was one of those pivotal moments when I could have changed course and avoided a fiasco, but no, I had to stand on principle. “Maggie,” I said, “You may NOT grab things out of my hand. I am going to put these back in the bag, and if you take them out again, we will not go to the water park.” You can guess what happened next. Out came the skirt and shirt, and I, the reasonable adult, responded. “Okay then. We’re not going.” I had to do it. I had made the threat, and there was no backpedaling. Either I was a woman of my word or I wasn’t.

I knew it wasn’t going to go over well, but I couldn’t have predicted that my naked banshee of a daughter would pick up her (rather heavy) piggy bank and throw it at me, narrowly missing her baby sister’s head. I mean, that kid put some muscle behind it. And with her naked bottom right there, I couldn’t help myself. If anything warranted a spanking, this was it. One quick pop and down to time-out she went.

You know, I wish there were a moral to this story. Did the spanking make me feel better? Not really. Am I going to do it again? I don’t plan on it.  If there is anything to be gleaned from this experience, it’s that arguing with a three-year-old is pretty much the most unreasonable thing an adult can do. (But of course, I’m going to do it again – you know, being a woman of principle and everything.)

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