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Uncovering Vocation –  “Spanked: The Sanctioned Violence”

Dr. Christina Erickson, Social Work on January 24th, 2023

Reading:  By Anne LaMott

My coming to this vocation did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another.  Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew. Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would land, and in this way I moved.   I can see how flimsy and indirect a path they made.  Yet each step brought me closer to the verdant pad on which I stay afloat today.  

Good morning –  I have been a social worker for 30 years and I felt like that gave me an easy out on this vocation stuff  –easy, it was my work – which I described as making the world a better place. Becoming a social work professor was a natural evolution of that original vocational path.  I was set. No more discoveries to be made. What I never expected, was a mid-life vocation that would grip me for more than 10 years.  Like Ann Lamott describes, I can look back and see how I leapt from lily pad to lily pad through the course of my life, never knowing that those experiences would become so important to a mid-life vocation I couldn’t have imagined.  

Lily pad 1…..My mother’s spanking – so futile, so “not into it”, her swings and misses.  My own wriggling away.  My father’s spanking – so scary, so shaming, having to stop himself because he was big and strong. My 3 older brothers spankings,  – so harsh, so much anger in both directions. 

My family of origin, the family I grew up in, was happy, I felt loved, we were loud, we laughed, 5 children and 2 parents who were high school sweethearts, pregnant before they were married despite strict Catholic upbringings, we were fine and good and my parents spanked us.  My parents hit us.  They never hit each other, they never hit the dog, but spanking a child on the butt….that was acceptable, anytime, parental decision alone, no child input needed.  In spanking, the perpetrator is always right and the victim is always wrong.

Lily pad 2….my high school boyfriend. We met in the tennis module of gym class.  We were separated by gender (this was 1984) through the whole unit until the end when the ranked boys played the ranked girls.  He was ranked first in his gender and I in mine.  We had to battle it out, and while I lost handily, it was love, love.  We started dating.  2 years into our high school romance I punched him in the stomach in my parent’s basement family room.  I have no memory of why, but I remember the event vividly.  My anger, my punching, the look on his face.  

Lily pad 3 – I go to graduate school in social work and begin my field experience at The Initial Intervention Unit in child and family services.  We were the first social workers to visit a home or school with a child abuse investigation. I see the effects of hitting on little bodies. I see the pain and shame of parents who have to talk to us. I feel their struggle, I see their love for their children. 

Lily pad 4 – I’ll read a section from my book –  I suddenly saw that if I hit my kids, it was the same as hitting my high school boyfriend, back in 1986 (the other parent of my children by the way).  If I hit them too, I would be the face of modern domestic violence. 

Lily pad 5 – I am captivated by spanking.  I cannot stop thinking about it.  Its nearly obsessive.  It is like a veil has been removed, and I begin to see spanking everywhere.  I am at the park, and see a child spanked for hitting his brother when it was really his little brother that hit him first, my friend tells me why she spanked her child and I am supposed to be supportive, on the news a child dies from injuries from their parent’s discipline, my perspectives on my children are clearer and I begin to see my own fears and frustrations shadowing my perspective of their childhood.  Were they really naughty or am I scared or ashamed or perplexed for them.  I start writing my thoughts down. 

Lily pad 6 – This place.  Augsburg.  URGO – Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity program. I decided I need to learn about spanking by using frameworks I understand – that’s research.  Through URGO, (Check URGO out, this is a blatant commercial) I mentor a paid student researcher and together we study the history of school corporal punishment. From the 1600’s leading up to its current use today (19 states allow paddling kids in schools – yes, with a stick).  I was really obsessed now. The student and I get an additional URGO funded research project – a policy analysis of school corporal punishment laws in all of those 19 states. 

Lily pad 7 – I keep writing what I see and hear and learn, I start gathering literature, and before I know it I’ve got sections and chapters and I think I have crafted a book proposal.  I submit it.  It’s accepted for publication. 

Lily pad 8 – My sabbatical – I go all out now.  Lit review, ten 30 page papers I cannot wait to write. I smile while I write.  My mid-life vocation makes me happy. My mid life vocation even saves me when hard times show up in my life…. It was my anchor, my prayer, my sanity in an insane world and an insane time of my life. Remember I thought my vocation was to make the world a better place,  my vocation turned out to make me a better person. 

I spent 10 years shaping my thinking about spanking, revisiting what I thought was a benign event in the lives of children.  I moved from “maybe we shouldn’t do that” to a full on belief that the legal assault of children is happening every day, in homes all around us.  It has happened to most of us, and many of us have perpetrated spanking. I feel empathy for kids and their parents, and realize that whether we are being hit or hitting – it is harmful to both of us. It’s time to leave spanking where it belongs – (pun intended)  behind us.