When my youngest was barely five years old, I took my three children for a visit into Manhattan. The older two were ages eight and eleven and were allowed to walk a few steps ahead, but I insisted that my little daughter hold my hand—to her great unhappiness. She whined and complained and argued that she was a “big girl,” and didn’t need to hold my hand.
I patiently explained, repeatedly, that there were too many people rushing on the sidewalks and she could get separated or knocked over, and crossing busy streets with rushing traffic was simply too dangerous. “When you are older, you can walk without holding my hand in the city,” I told her. I also explained that she could not hold her brother or sister’s hand, she must hold MY hand because I was bigger and older and stronger and I was MOM. Period. She continued to pout and whine.
Then we were crossing several lanes of the always bustling Park Avenue. Her siblings were easily making it across, but my five-year-old and I were hindered by other pedestrians, so we stopped on the median as I told her that we had to wait for the next green light. My older children waited for us across the street.
With a sudden ferocity, my little girl wrenched her hand out of mine and dashed across the remainder of Park Avenue—on the red light—to join her brother and sister. My breath blew out like a gut punch when I saw her run right into busy traffic—in New York City. I screamed her name and ran after her, holding my hands up blindly to stop traffic, silently praying for what seemed like forever but was just a few seconds.
This story has a happy ending: My daughter and I made it across. We were not hit by a car or bus or truck or even a bicyclist. Thank God. But the instant I caught her across the street, I grabbed her arm with a harsh pull and administered three large wallops across her bottom while shouting in her face, “Don’t you ever—EVER—pull your hand out of mine again! Don’t you ever run away from me!”
Many people who witnessed the almost-tragedy simply glanced understandingly at me while several passersby, who didn’t see what happened before the spanking, glared with indignation and probably considered calling the police. I didn’t care what anyone thought as my daughter started to cry with sorrow and humiliation while my own tears fell from fear and relief. We both gathered our composure with shaky breaths and I told my littlest to take my hand—which she did quickly and willingly—as we continued our walk. Period. She was now quiet and docile.
Here is what “they” tell us to do instead of spanking a child who has done something wrong: We should firmly explain to the child why her behavior was wrong and have a discussion about our feelings. Just imagine I did that after our horrible near-miss: Imagine I firmly told my daughter how dangerous it was for her to pull away and run into traffic and she must never do it again. In her little undeveloped brain, she would have thought, “But Mommy is wrong--it wasn’t dangerous, I ran and nothing bad happened!” And she would have learned that the price of misbehavior is simply a firm lecture; a price easily worth paying for future disobedience.
That was not an option: I needed my daughter to learn, immediately and without a second thought or disagreement, that she cannot, must not, will not ever ever EVER do such a thing again. This was a matter of life and death and I wouldn’t trust a “firm discussion” to work.
I can count on one hand how many times I had to hit one of my children for similar “never ever again” reasons. Spanking should never be a go-to punishment, but there are times it is absolutely necessary and it needs to be in every parent’s arsenal.
I do not regret hitting her in public; I’m glad I did it and I’d do it again. It worked; my little girl never again argued about taking my hand—that day or any other day—and we are both alive to tell the story.