Growing up, I thought my family was the only one in which abusive words were spoken to children.  I did not imagine that other homes existed where hitting your child was common or a daily occurrence.  In my home, any kitchen utensil my mother could grab would become a painful weapon if any of us did anything that could be perceived as “disrespectful”.  Teaching us respect by disrespecting us.  The irony of this didn’t dawn on me until much later.

For my entire childhood, I felt I deserved to be hit, to be mocked, verbally and emotionally.  The friends I had as a child, or neighbors we were pawned off on, seemed infinitely kind and I wished that one of them would adopt me.  I was afraid of my mother and would flinch when she came near me.  I even told myself for many years that my mom did the best she could.  That I deserved it and she was stressed out. I believed she loved us and even craved her approval.  Stockholm Syndrome.

I was spanked and I am NOT okay.
I was so naive.  On so many levels and in so many heartbreaking ways, I have seen what a childist culture we live in. I have seen how the majority of people view children as “less than” or deserving of next to no rights.  I have seen the immediate eye roll when my three young children and I enter certain public places. It is illegal to hit another adult, yet in many places you can hit your child with no legal repercussions.  We live in a society that views children’s feelings as silly and not as valid as an adults.
I’ve been called “over sensitive” for as long as I can remember. I have an abundance of empathy, to the point where I often absorb other peoples’ emotions, which can lead to shutdown.  The first psychiatrist to mention that they thought I may be Autistic immediately followed it with “But you have too much empathy”.  The ignorance about autism is astounding.  I can shut down reading horrific stories or watching the news.  This makes the internet and the world an even more difficult place to navigate.  If I comment on a post where a child is being embarrassed, I am told to “lighten up” and that it’s “just a joke”.  People argue semantics. Spanking is hitting, regardless of the degree, and violence is never the answer.
Those videos and pictures of crying toddlers that go viral make me really sad.  I wonder how that child must have felt in that moment when their parents grabbed a cell phone instead of pulling them in for a hug, or offering words of reassurance.  What if my husband videotaped me crying when I had post-partum depression?  I used to cry over seemingly “little” things.   Somehow I don’t think most people would think it was as funny.  Since I am an adult, it is less socially acceptable.

The ideas such as “get along shirts” and other forms of child shaming are rampant, and cheered by much of the public.  Our society is, by and large, doing it wrong.  There is no non-judgemental way to put it.  Our children should be given more understanding, more kindness, more compassion because they are younger and completely dependent on us. Preying upon that vulnerability for laughs or sharing their humiliation publicly for commiseration is not okay.  If you would not like someone to do it to you, please don’t do it to your child or condone it being done to any other child.

There is another path to choose.  The cycle does not have to continue.  Despite being hit most of my childhood, I have never hit my children.  Even though love was withheld from me and used as currency, I give my children unconditional love.  My affection and attention are never withheld based on their performance or behavior.  My children do not have to do anything but be themselves and they are loved and accepted without question or condition.

When my children were babies, I was constantly told I was spoiling them by sleeping with them, not letting them cry it out and feeding them as much or often as needed.  I see it as responding to a need, intuitively, in the same way I would do my best to respond to anyone in need.  We live in democracy with our children. This doesn’t mean our lives are perfect.  It means when issues arise, we work them out together, compassionately, collaboratively. We are guides, not authority figures.  Their brains are still developing and they are learning how to navigate complicated emotions.  We help them when they show they need it.

Gentle, respectful, intentional parenting can be life changing and healing. It is never too late to make changes.  We have changed and adapted and continue to do so.  I let my children lead the way and show me what they need.  School wasn’t a good fit for them, so we went back to our original plan.  Now they are thriving in a child led approach. We have no desire to make our Autistic children obedient or “indistinguishable”.

Since their diagnoses and my own, I have learned so much from other Autistic self advocates as well as many parents who embrace their children’s neurology.  I believe fully, and without question, that children are deserving of respect, dignity and autonomy over their own bodies right now.  They need not wait until they are adults to have these rights afforded to them.  For us, for me, the cycle is broken. My children are free.


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