Smacks of Authority

Guess what? I hit my kids when they’re naughty. But I also make sure I hear them out first and let them know they will always have my love

tree8IT WAS many years ago, but it is an incident which still comes to mind. I was an undergraduate getting ready to leave for campus. I can’t remember what exactly it was that my Mum had said but I remember my agitated response: ‘I’ve got more important things to do.’

I had hardly completed my sentence when I felt the full force of my father’s hand across my face. I was 21 then. Without thinking, I turned and shoved him. He staggered. I could see he was stunned. My Mum intervened and it ended there.

I had tremendous respect for my parents and have always regretted my action that day. But it did put an end the years of caning and slapping I had received from my very strict parents.

My Dad loved us immensely but he was an authoritarian. He was so quick on the draw that I almost never saw the hand coming. His hand movement always reminded me of the smash action of table tennis players.

But sometimes he was just too fast. He would slap me and realise later that I had nothing to do with why my sisters were crying and he would apologise.

I had decided long before I got married, that my parenting style was going to be different. Reason, persuasion and cajolery were what I was going to use when I had my own kids. But as a young parent years ago, I very quickly threw these out the window. They just did not work.

It would be another seven, eight, maybe 10 years before my children were going to understand fully what I was trying to teach them using persuasion and reason.

I decided not to wait, unlike a close long-time friend of mine.

From the time he had his two girls, he had used reason and logic to correct their behaviour. They are intelligent beings, he used to tell me and they were. The girls were allowed to make some decisions which, in my home, I made for my kids.

When his girls were about 10 years old, he surprised me one day when he said: ‘Matt, they are kids and I should never have treated them like adults. It doesn’t work. I made a mistake. There were times when I should have just smacked them.’

I felt sad for him because I knew both he and his wife were having a tough time dealing with them and, like all of us, he was learning parenting on the job.

Quite often, the rod is seen as cold and authoritarian and some parents swing to the other extreme especially if they have had bad experiences as kids. I don’t use the rod liberally but I never shunned it.

When my children broke the rules or crossed the line, they were smacked. This was especially so when they were young. It taught them who was boss in the house. They also learned to respect authority in general.

I was beginning to see some sense in my Dad’s fury and madness. But I still felt he only had it half right. The use of the rod should go hand-in-hand with good communication with the children.

Before and after the smacking, especially, are important times to communicate with the children. I hear them out, I tell them their punishment, they put in their mitigation plea, and the final punishment is administered.

After the crying or sulking, they told they are loved, we talk about what they had done wrong and why ripping the sister’s school book was not okay even if she had started the altercation. I also explain why I had to discipline them.

The session ends with an extra tight hug and they are reminded of my love for them and that they are being disciplined out of love. But this communication should not be confined to pre and post punishment. It should be an on-going process.

I make use of every opportunity I have with the kids, whether it is during a drive, over a meal, when we are kicking around or watching a game. And it could take the form of a warning, a correction, an encouragement or instruction.

It is also not one-sided. It is just as important to listen to them.

On many occasions, I have been surprised by the views, concerns and questions my kids have raised. And many times, I have been rewarded with something I learned or just with something which made me smile.

Once for instance, my youngest son Marcus, who is 12 now, called me when I was in the midst of a meeting. ‘Dad, this is urgent. I took the ang ku kueh you bought for breakfast out from the banana leaf it came on and put it on a kitchen towel to remove the oil. Now it is stuck to the kitchen towel.

‘How do I get it out?’ my weight-conscious son asked.

You simply have no answers to some of their questions but you become aware of the goings-on in their lives. This communication over the years has built trust between my children and me. As my kids became teenagers, I relied almost solely on talking to them to correct and discipline them. But they have received the occasional smack. By then, that smack on the hand hardly hurt them but it still registered with them that they had crossed the line.

Even my daughter Natasha gets the same treatment the two boys do. And they sit and listen when they are being given a talking to because I feel I had made it clear that I was the boss at my home and that they listened to me. The heart-to-heart talks have established a bond and they now fully trust me and come to me even when they have done wrong.

When my elder son Shaun was 16, I asked if he resented my smacking him when he was younger. I cited one incident in particular. And I was pleasantly surprised when he said he did not and understood why I had done it. I was prepared to accept him saying that he did not agree with it. I had felt that correcting his action then was more important, even if he was going to be mad at me for it. I think it was an obsession to set me on the right path that drove my Dad to reach for the cane. It was more important for him that I grew up right than for me not to resent him.

I realised this only many years later.

If he had told me what he was trying to achieve, if he had communicated, I am sure our relationship would have been even better.


About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network.


First published on 31-01-2012.

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Categories: Dad's Journey, Matthew Pereira

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