The video clip of the woman in yellow has gone viral, a violent loop as she assaults a young man on the streets of Baltimore. She is his mother. She is attacking her teenage son. For this aggressive behavior, some have hailed her as “Mom of the Year”.
The lauding of this offense as exemplary parenting leaves me a little nauseated and very saddened. I am a mother. I understand that woman’s frustration. My four children took a significant number of toddler-through-teenage missteps on their way to adulthood. During the infancy of our first child, however, my husband and I consciously decided that we were not ever going to resort to corporal punishment. We had both been struck in anger by our parents when we were children, and we both knew that we wanted to be different now that we were the parents. We relied on alternate methods of disciplining our children, from time-outs to loss of privileges to the restitution process, but we never hit them. Somehow our children did not run wild. Somehow they knew that we were in charge and that they were to respect us, as well as each other, in our home. Our philosophical decision took some self-control on our parts—there were times of desperation when the thought of a good spanking was awfully tempting—and our own families sometimes ridiculed us for our childrearing techniques. Ultimately, though, we were operating from a deeply held value of and commitment to nonviolence. Love, even tough love, does not condone any kind of violence.
If we are to have peace in our homes, our communities, our nations, and our world, surely it does not begin with child abuse. When we ask God to, as the song goes, “Let peace begin with me,” we cannot then applaud a mother slapping her son upside the head repeatedly. “I wish I had more parents that took charge of their kids out there,” said the Police Commissioner of Baltimore, in admiration of her “smacking him on the head,” a statement I find appalling in the midst of a violent crisis. Resorting to violence has never led to peace. Have we learned nothing from those proponents of nonviolence we supposedly revere, from Jesus, from Gandhi, from Martin Luther King, Jr? We parents are responsible for our children’s earliest and most powerful lessons, and abuse only teaches them to abuse. “Don’t punish me with brutality,” sang Marvin Gaye. “Talk to me.” What an idea, that words can be more potent than fists.
My husband and I are not perfect parents: our children can attest to our failings. No doubt they will parent their children according to their perception of the ways in which we fell short. But the decent people our children have become prove that sparing the rod did not spoil the child. A teenager caught misbehaving in the street needs guidance and hope, education and prospects, not a public thrashing. Our children, all of them, need our collective mentoring and confidence and time. They need working models of compassion and peace. When we praise a beating as effective parenting, we are all the worse for it. The many anonymous Moms of the Year know that.
Valerie Schultz is a freelance writer, a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and the author of Closer: Musings on Intimacy, Marriage, and God. She and her husband Randy have four daughters.