Amid fresh calls for smacking to be outlawed in the home, Emily Cleary, an award-winning journalist and mum-of-two, explains why she doesn't regret smacking her children:
My stomach lurched and I let out a bloodcurdling scream as my daughter hurtled towards the road. Chasing behind her I could hear traffic coming from all directions and I was petrified I wouldn’t reach her in time. Those few seconds passed like minutes as I struggled to catch up and grab her, and the sounds of screeching tyres filled my ears.
But I did make it. I snatched her back towards me, scooped her into my arms, and placed her feet firmly on the pavement. Then I pulled down her pants and I slapped her bottom.
She cried, and I cried inside too. But our tears were for very different reasons. She felt wronged, she was only playing, why had mummy smacked her when she just wanted to get to the other side of the road? Me, I felt as if I’d just had a very lucky escape. My three-year-old could have died. She could have been hit by a car, she would no longer be here, I was shell-shocked and emotional.
‘But don’t you feel guilty?’ This from another mum. ‘How can you hit your own child? Would you like your pants pulled down in public? To shame her on top of hitting her, that’s appalling.
‘Don’t you feel guilty?’
Well no, actually, I don’t. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. Rather a screaming child angry at mummy for slapping her arse than a dead kid in the road. And you know what? My daughter had been doing the exact same thing daily for three weeks, and she hasn’t done it since. So it worked. My smack on the bottom to save her from killing herself seems to have done the trick. Everyone’s a winner.
But had this happened elsewhere in Europe, or possibly in the UK in a few years’ time, I would be telling a different story, and possibly telling it from a police cell.
A motion has been put forward to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) from the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) urging the government to ‘acknowledge that physical punishment can have negative long-term effects on a child’s development’ and pushing for smacking a child to be illegal under any circumstances.
Parents are currently legally allowed to smack children lightly if it can be described as a ‘reasonable punishment’. I 100 per cent believe that the situation I’ve just described conforms to this.
Emily and her two children
Now I’m no baby-basher. I’ve been accused more than once of wrapping my kids in cotton wool, and my mollycoddling of my first-born reached such gargantuan levels my family feared I’d be breastfeeding him into his 20s. But I’m also not a Saint, and show me an (honest) parent who is.
I’m not suggesting every parent in Britain smacks their child, but I am suggesting that the vast majority have at least considered it at some point.
As my son turned two, he developed an aversion to being strapped in his car seat. He would scream, he would kick, he would bite, we would wail. He would arch his back and he would not, for love nor money (nor chocolate), give up. I was eight months pregnant and as this daily struggle became a relentless battle, I sunk into despair.
I reasoned with him, I pleaded with him, I bribed him and I threatened him. But no matter how loudly I warned him his treats would be taken away, or how much I wept at his feet as I desperately tried to clip the belt in, he wouldn’t listen. A trip to the shop became torture. It was stressful, it was agony, it was mortifying.
So it happened again and I slapped him. I slapped him on the leg and I hated myself. It wasn’t hard and it wasn’t without forethought, but I felt terrible all the same.
However, I managed to secure him into his seat, and when the next Groundhog Day came round there was less of a struggle. I gave him a hug. I praised him for being good and I thanked him for ‘helping mummy’. The storm subsided and the torture was over. For both of us.
I would never say ‘I hit my kids’ and I would never use a slap as a first, second, or even third attempt at a solution. But there have been times when I have felt smacking them has been the only way to break a cycle of behaviour and ultimately, in my situations, I have been proved right.
I cuddle my kids. I praise them, I talk to them and I play with them. I want to be the best mum I possibly can be and while sometimes it’s hard I feel I’m doing okay. I engage with them and they know they are unconditionally loved. By the way they respond to me and the way they treat their peers I can already see that they are kind, empathetic and well-balanced human beings. I do not believe I am psychologically damaging them by smacking them on very rare occasions.
Words by Emily Cleary.