‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ or…

By Aicha

You can find this proverb in the Bible and you can find similar ones in different cultures and religions. What this proverb means is that if you love your child and wish the best for his or her future you shouldn’t hesitate to correct him or her whenever it is needed. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to beat your child with a stick or your hand. Instead, it is more about discipline. You see, a rod can be a mental one, it doesn’t have to be taken literally. You can correct your child with your voice and your eyes; you can correct your child by limiting his or her freedom but you don’t need to hit him or her with any kind of item.

When I was a child it was common that the kids were forced to go out in the woods to cut some elastic branches from a tree and bring it back to their parents. What happened after that is almost too humiliating to speak about, but I can tell you as much that it hurts a lot to be hit by these branches on your naked skin. I pray to God that none of you, dear readers, have been forced to experience the same thing as I and a lot of other children did at the time.

It made marks on my soul that will never leave me and I promised myself as a young girl, that if I get children some day I will never humiliate them as I was humiliated. I have three children, young adults now, and I’m proud to say that I never, ever treated my kids as I was treated. I corrected them of course, but I never hit them.

I knew an old lady – Ester was her name – who I used to call grandma. She passed away more than 25 years ago but her memory will always remain with me. At the time when Ester died she was in her mid-eighties and at that time when she was born families were large and spanking your child was more of a rule than an exception. Ester’s mother had given birth to eight children but that sweet lady never laid her hand on anyone of them. She used her eyes and her voice, and if someone questioned her she would always say that it is very easy to hit your child. I understood what she meant when I became a mother and especially when my sons misbehaved in a manner that made me furious.

Every time I felt tempted to raise my hand, I heard Grandma Ester’s voice in my head: “It is very easy to hit a child.” As my kids grew up, I spoke to them about this and told them a little about my life and my experiences. I wanted them to know where I came from, what kind of upbringing I had got and what had formed me to be the person I am today. So many times I have heard people say that they got spanked when they were kids but that didn’t hurt them. They say that this treatment made them better people, that they learned how to behave and they didn’t accuse their parents at all for beating them.

Is this really true for each and every one of us? Am I the only one who has a wounded soul? Once I read a story about the famous Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. One of her siblings had done something wrong and was going to be punished. Their mother told the child to go and fetch some branches and it took a while before the child came back. The child reached out its hand to the mother and said: “I’m sorry, mother, but I didn’t find any suitable branches, but here is a stone instead. You can throw that at me.” The mother never hit her children again after that.

It is one thing to execute a corporal punishment in the heat of the moment, but it is terribly different to delay it and let the child wait in agony. According to a research by Unicef in 2010, about 87 % of the caregivers in The Gambia believed that corporal punishment is necessary to educate children. In 1979, we made a law in Sweden which forbids us to hit in way or abuse children.

We must keep in mind that small children are vulnerable and they depend on us adults completely. Corporal punishment is a short time solution that leads children to long time agony. I truly understand the temptation of beating or in other ways physically punishing a child when we lose our temper, but how does that make the child feel? Where do we want this to lead?

What kind of punishment is hard enough and where do we pass the line and it becomes child abuse instead? On what part of a child’s body is it okay to hit and what parts should be protected? Do we take the time to consider these questions before the punishment? No, I don’t think so.

We get angry and in the heat of the moment the hand is raised and the child is crying. I am not saying that all parents are abuse their children, what I say is that if there is a law protecting our children from abuse, we must be wise enough to find other ways of correcting our children. Not all parents love their children, not all mothers are good and caring, not all fathers are protecting their families. When the father and/or the mother can’t protect their children, we must have laws protecting the children so they can get help from others.

I come from a dysfunctional family with alcohol problems, abuse of both children and wives and a lot of other problems. Look at corporal punishment as rings in a long chain of abuse. How long should this chain become before someone understands that the chain of violence must be broken and a new chain of love and protection must be created? When I was a young woman, years before I became a mother, I decided to break the chain of violence I was connected to and create a new chain. I was lucky enough to have a husband at that time who had never experienced child abuse himself.

He could never imagine to raise his hand towards our three children or towards me. I remember that I was grateful for that but at the same time it was very strange that I should be grateful for something that is normal. It is not normal to abuse either your children or your spouse, violence must always be an exception and never the rule. Sometimes you might need to grab your child by the arm, to make him or her stop with his or her bad behaviour, but from that to actually beating it is a huge step to take and it will never lead to anything good. Violence feeds new violence. It will lead to fear, low self-esteem, self-injury and psychological problems. It will teach the child to lie to protect him or herself from being abused over and over again.

In my family, the chain was like this: my father abused my mother, my mother abused my sister and I, my sister abused me and I abused my younger brother. It was an endless chain of violence and fear and I will tell you that I was afraid of my mother until I was 50! This is madness and nothing anyone can say will convince me that she did what she did because she loved me.

Spare the rod and you will spoil the child; well, then I must have become the most well-behaved young woman in the world because the rod was used every day. I was a very afraid, shy and quiet girl as I grew up. I tried not to be seen, so no one would beat me. I am still very good at feeling the dominant emotion in a group of people. If the energy is bad, I will disappear like the pattern on a wallpaper. I believe that my mother loved me in some way, but she never made me feel that. Her soul was damaged by her upbringing since the war in Finland when the Russians invaded the country and killed a lot of Finns. Times were hard, it was only a matter of survival and a crying child was only irritating. The cry could also be dangerous because if you have to hide from the enemy you don’t want your child to reveal where you are hidden.

My mother was a part of her own violent chain stretching generations back. She only repeated what she was taught from early childhood. My mother was, like many other mothers in the world, not especially educated. She tried her best but as she was very strong-minded she never took advice from anyone. They say that in Africa it takes a whole village to raise a child, that might still be true but here in the north we don’t have that security of this village around us.

We don’t live in extended families; every family is like an island surrounded by solitude. We don’t give advice easily and try to manage on our own. We don’t live together with our elderly parents and in those cases when we have them near they are busy on their own most of the time. If we need a babysitter, we must call for someone to come, we don’t just go somewhere, knock on the door and offer our help.

When I spend time in The Gambia, I meet brothers and sisters of my husband’s who come to help with the kids or some other things that needed to be done. I like this system that you extend a hand to help others. I’m blessed to have a wonderful family both in The Gambia and in Sweden. There is so much love and caring between the family members and I appreciate it even more because I have experienced the complete opposite. For those families who have this foundation of love, it must be wonderful to grow up as a child knowing that you have always someone who cares for you. Children are vulnerable and they have a human right of being well taken care of, having a home, being fed every day, go to school and to feel secure. A child that is beaten and in other ways humiliated loses his or her feeling of security.

If you think back on what I told you about the kids who were forced to bring branches to be beaten with – how can a parent keep on to the anger for so long it takes for the child to come back home? A slap in the heat of the moment – I do understand that, but force the child to fetch what it he or she is going to be beaten with? That is cruelty!
I will end with some words from a study made by The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children: “The study examined various risk factors for experiencing corporal punishment and found that violence between adults were ten times as likely to be physically punished as children in families where there was no violence between adults.”
Stop this chain of violence and begin a new one with rings made of love and caring instead.

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