To smack or not to smack, that is the current question. It is not a question that Shakespeare would have put into the mouth of a character, obviously; it is simply too fatuous a query to have entered the mind of any God-fearing Elizabethan. Young Will would certainly have had his share of cuffs, slaps and smacks from his parents as he loitered about the house, day-dreaming and dawdling at the tasks he was set. In those days you didn’t spare the rod and you didn’t spoil the child.
Actually, this way of rearing children lasted until after the last War – indeed, until the 60s when everything seemed to change. As a child of the 50s, my parents did not question their right to physically check us if we stepped out of line. My father did it very rarely, mainly because spending his spare time on the golf course was pleasanter than disciplining his noisy, argumentative children. I have one vivid recollection of him putting a younger sister over his knee and spanking her, saying emphatically, “I hate lies.” I doubt if my sister even remembers this incident and I only recall it because it was so rare.
My mother, it must be said, often tended in the impatience of the moment to ‘lay about her’, sometimes with a wooden spoon on the palm of the hand. This was painful and I don’t recommend it; nor would I say, as people sometimes aver, that “it did me no harm”. Smacking a naughty child who is below the age of reason but not above the age of dangerous exploits like running into the road is one thing; deliberately using an implement of chastisement is quite another. I made a conscious decision never to do this with my own children – though I have smacked occasionally.
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, made the important point (and the headlines) when he remarked recently that working-class parents, who traditionally would have corrected their offspring by physical punishment, feel powerless to discipline them now that smacking has been redefined as physical violence, and outlawed. This came about through Left-wing middle class diktat and it is as patronising and unworkable as you would expect from such a source. Parents hell-bent on abusing their children physically will continue to do so, laws or no laws. How can they be stopped? Other parents, well-meaning and caring, but unconfident and inexperienced, cease to use any discipline at all. Factor in fatherless families and other social problems and you see Lammy’s point: it is all very well legislating from the vantage point of self-confidence, good education and established authority figures – but what of large swathes of the population lacking these features?
My sister-in-law told me that when she and my brother were considering adoption, an officious social worker asked them if they intended to smack a child they might receive. Being honest, she replied that she wouldn’t rule it out completely, but only if it was appropriate to the child and the circumstances etc. This response did not go down at all well.
I have just been reading Great Expectations. Mrs Joe Gargery brings up Pip “by hand” as she often harshly reminds him, meaning frequently knocking him about. Dickens, who loathed all violence to children, gives her a savage come-uppance for her cruelty. Social workers and legislators of the Left-wing consensus need to be reminded that most parents are not like Mrs Joe; they love their children, are occasionally driven to distraction by their behaviour and sometimes administer a smack, just hard enough to stop the miscreant in his tracks. This is not abuse and parents should not be penalised for it.