It’s Just a Slap

As I was sitting in a therapist’s office for the first time in my life this week, I wasn’t sure what to think. I began to speak, but then she stopped me. “Hold on. Before we talk, I want to inform you regarding the things I’m required to report to authorities.”

Okay. I thought. Did my intake form put her on alert? I didn’t recall saying anything that would raise a red flag. I had just made the decision to start therapy because I’ve watched a couple I know vastly improve their relationship by going to separate therapists rather than a couples therapist. As my friend pointed out, “it’s not relationship issues we have to work out, it’s personal shit that keeps us from having a good relationship.” That hit home for me. She was right. I had to deal with my issues first before my relationship with my husband.

And here I sat three days later in the office of my friend’s therapist—my therapist now—listening to her list the things that she was required to report … elder care abuse, dependent care abuse, domestic violence among spouses in the presence of children—I stopped her on that one. “Wait, just physical abuse?” I was not only thinking about my childhood, but also my own home. You know, sometimes I yell. But she cleared that up. She said it would have to be strong verbal abuse, you know, strong words, condescending, threatening language—yep, I grew up with that, but that wasn’t my marriage. We just bickered about stupid shit like “why didn’t you unload the dishwasher” or “can you please make the kids brush their teeth.”

She went on to talk about suicidal tendencies. If I told her I was going to kill myself, had the means to do it and had planned a time, she would have to report it. I could tell she was going to spend some time on this one so I cut her off, and told her that I had never been suicidal and didn’t plan to be suicidal in the near future.

After suicide she brought up child abuse. Her words were …

“I’d like to talk to you about what constitutes child abuse in the state of California.”

Okay, here we go. I was a bit sensitive to this subject in light of the recent child abuse case with the Minnesota Vikings dad, Adrian Peterson. News reports state that he spanked his child with a “small” tree branch and the pictures show horrible marks up and down his legs, and butt, and that’s not the half of it. Did you know he actually caused a fracture on his 4-year-old son (One of the counts was “aggravated assault causing a fracture.”)

There is no excuse for child abuse. NONE. The fact that he was sending text messages practically bragging about it just shows that he needs real help. I knew before sitting in this office that what Adrian Peterson had done was, without a doubt, child abuse. Many newspaper reporters have to sidestep this, even using the term “borderline child abuse,” but I’m not a reporter, so I have no problem stating the obvious. Intentionally inflicting pain on a child so brutally as to fracture or leave cuts, welts, etc. is child abuse, it’s that simple. But I digress, let me get back to a licensed therapist’s definition of child abuse.

My therapist went on to explain that anything other than spanking on the butt with your hand is child abuse. This included a slap on the face, grabbing an arm with enough force to leave a mark, or god forbid cause a fracture. Hitting anywhere but the butt with your hand is child abuse, she explained. I asked her “What about leaving a mark on the butt?” She said it was pretty hard to leave a mark on the butt. Again, I thought about that poor boy with all those red welts and broken skin on his butt. I thought about all the foster children that flowed through my childhood home. Children who had been beaten by their parents with hangars, hoses, and vacuum attachments. I kept listening. I thought about my mom slapping me in the face countless times growing up. I never thought of that as child abuse. I had a smart mouth. I was a bitch as a teenager. I respected her for slapping me at the time. Then there was my dad, he spanked me twice in my life, both times with a belt. So I guess that would have been considered child abuse. My clothing was on; the belt was used on my butt. It was only a few swats. No marks, just red, but still child abuse by today’s standards.

I thought about how my children push my buttons. How I lose my temper. How I yell and threaten. How they call me mean, and I think, God, you have no idea what mean is. They don’t have an inkling of what it means to be physically abused, and they never will, if I have anything to say about it.

As parents, we all have a different reality, or paradigm if you will—what’s normal for your family isn’t normal for mine. For example, I was spanked and slapped across the face as a child. I didn’t consider this child abuse. My parents were in their forties when I was born, not the norm for when I was born. They were considered grandparents having kids. And kids didn’t talk back to their parents. Period. We’ve come a long way, but we also have sassier, more precocious children who challenge parents in new ways, daily. I don’t think we’ve figured out how to handle this digital generation, glued to their devices. For most parents devices are babysitters, especially parents who juggle work with family responsibilities. With the work productivity levels required today, parents don’t get a lot of down time during the week.

Did you know that being stressed out can scar your children for life? Isn’t that child abuse?

Stress levels are at the peak for me right now. And I’m not alone in this. Even kids are stressed out. According to a recent study in the Journal of Science and Medicine, parents are officially less stressed out at work than they are at home, some even would rather be deployed!

Some soldiers have said “… in some ways it’s easier to be deployed, doing one thing, no matter how dangerous, than back in the swirl of work and doctor appointments and bills to pay and unpredictable toddlers.”

The study found that parents were more stressed out during the week, when they were expected to juggle both kids and work than when they could relax with just the kids on weekends. I know this is true for both my husband and I. Especially when you tack on the demands schools are placing on parents—to teach their children concepts they don’t have time to learn in school. I know my work days end at 3PM so I can help with homework, and then I continue work again at 8PM (from my laptop), once they are asleep, assuming I’m not asleep by then too.

I asked myself the question before my first meeting with this therapist—How can I lower my stress level? I don’t want to yell at my kids. I don’t want to lose my temper. I know that my stress is affecting my children. I argue with my husband, I get upset when they don’t do what I ask, I always seem to be pissed off. Too much stress.

I mean, sure we can judge Adrian Peterson. But as angry as I am that he hurt an innocent child, do I think he should get jail time? No. He needs help, not jail time. He’s not a “criminal.” Should he be allowed to see his child without supervision? No. Parents that hit their kids and leave marks should be supervised in the presence of their children, until they seek help. We need to protect our children. But protecting our children starts with the individual. Educating people on what consitutes child abuse. Maybe, handing out a pamphlet at the labor and delivery ward of the hospital with all that other crap they give you. Or maybe requiring parents to watch a video, while in the hospital, so they can’t claim ignorance or better yet say “that’s how I was raised?” I don’t know. Something that enlightens people on the effects of both physical and mental abuse. Parenting is a job after all. All jobs require some training. Why do we not require training for parents? Or at a minimum, a session on basic information regarding the child protection laws of the state you live in?

“… a child cannot just shake off the legacy of a troubled infancy and adolescence. That legacy has altered her very DNA.” (The Daily Beast)

Even if you don’t hit your child, you could be abusing them in other ways. Ways that affect them for life, causing them to be at a higher risk for behavior problems and even suicide. Causing them to be emotionally insecure into adulthood, making it difficult for them to form loving adult relationships, even alter their DNA. If you want to protect your child/children, start with yourself—work on yourself. Take a look in the mirror, and don’t be afraid of what you see. Get help before it’s too late. I’m tired of yelling at my kids and being stressed out. I’ve taken the first step. It’s time to work on myself.

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