The Marks we Leave On Our Children

by Katrina Quitugua

This is one of OMB’s most popular posts. It is the raw and honest account of one family’s choice not to spank- in the moment. I believe that sharing stories like these that inspires others and creates change. Thank you to Katrina Quitugua for writing and sharing this with the world.

Last week, my daughter drew on our 50″ plasma with one of her washable bath crayons. My husband was understandably upset. He looked at me angrily and said; “since we don’t spank, you need to teach her.” She is 13 months old. He was spanked as a child, and is new to gentle parenting. His animosity grew, and I could feel the reaction that he was barely not indulging… he wanted to spank her.

I looked at him blankly and said, “Do you really want to spank her? To hit her? To hurt her? Your daughter, who doesn’t know what she did was wrong? You gave her the crayon to play with. She was just having fun. How will hitting her make her understand? Tell me, do you really want to spank her?”

He looked over at our daughter sitting on the carpet, now trying to color it orange. He walked over, picked her up, and kissed her. He told her he loved her, and then said, “please don’t draw on daddy’s TV.”

You may think this accomplished nothing- that she will just draw on the TV again. You may be right. But this was a teachable moment. Not for my child of course, but for my husband. He paused and saw that our daughter deserves more than immediate violence or a “swat on the butt”. Our precious little girl should have our understanding. Her action was an age appropriate behavior. If we didnโ€™t want that to happen, there are many things we could’ve done to prevent it. I was so proud of my husband for overriding his initial reaction. In that instant he changed his relationship with his daughter and with me- it made my love for him grow exponentially.

Our children should never be looked at as our property- objects that we can treat as we see fit. They are nothing less than a person in their own right. As parents, we are here to help them understand the world and to guide them in their journey to adulthood. We are not here to instill fear and hostility or make them repress their actions for fear of violence.

The TV is just a material object. One that can be cleaned, repaired, or replaced if needed, but my reaction to my daughter can never be taken back. Some people argue that spanking is ok as long as you don’t leave a mark. Really though, everything we do leaves a mark. The marks we leave on our children will be one of the most important marks we leave on this world. I want for my husband and I to leave marks we can be proud of.

27 Replies to “The Marks we Leave On Our Children”

  1. I so agree with what you are saying!
    we used to spank our older two boys but soon realised that it was not the right way to parent.
    Now we parent differently but I so wished I had thought about what actions we were teaching our older two boys.
    Its not the way to teach our kids – teaching them with love is the better way…and its only a TV (which will either be replaced one day or no longer needed!) yet children are way more precious then stuff ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.” A Chinese proverb that I once encountered in a fortune cookie. Thank you for reminding me of these wise words.

  3. I love this article. I try to be this way with my son. I lose it maybe 5% of the time, I think mostly because I wasn’t raised this way myself. I’m still de-programming. Plus, there is a lot of pressure from friends and mostly family to “not spoil him”. But I believe in the non-aggression principle. I believe my child’s feelings and person-hood are real and just as important (more so even) than mine. Thanks for sharing – I can always use the encouragement!

    • Lesli that is wonderful! I really like how you specifically believe in supporting your child’s feelings and person-hood. That is a very important principle to me, as well. I feel that the more mindful we are of our children, the more they will learn through us and the more they will understand. If we treat them in a way that undermines them as a person (such as believing they are incapable of any understanding – therefore we “should” use punitive discipline), I feel it would actually take away from their learning. Just because a child has not yet had the chance to mature, does not mean they are completely unreasonable. Personally, I think the more we teach our children through example and explanation, the more well-balanced and socially obersavant they are and the faster they pick up on everyday learning.

    • Lesli,

      The idea of deprogramming really resonated with me. That is exactly it- we have been programmed to believe things must be done a certain way. It is difficult to overcome that.

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

  4. How could anyone want to spank that sweet little face ๐Ÿ™‚ I looove her.

    I honestly dont ever remember my mother ever spanking us. EVER, maybe a few loud words here and there when she was super upset but never laid a hand on us. My dad on the other hand uses to take the belt to us all the time, and while doing so, I would just sit there and think to myself about how much I hated him for doing this. What I did wrong did nothing to deserve a spanking with a belt. Maybe a good stern talking to, with what the right choices would of been. I still to this day will never forgive my dad for hitting me like he used to. I am now 24, and remember everyone of those spankings after I was about 5 years old. I dont think I took one positive thing away from any of it, not the screaming and yelling, the spankings, nothing. Real parenting was not his thing.

    • Stef,
      There are sooooo many people who have the same exact feelings and similar experience as you do about being spanked (with or without an object). I think you would be amazed at the number. Recently, I was in a discussion with a group of people and it made me really sad to hear about how they were affected by it. How they were very negatively affected by something that most people would call necessary and simple “discipline”. But, it’s not necessary or even needed. It makes me really happy to read the comments of people who want to change how they parent and to do better. Parents that realize it isn’t a positive experience or positive form of teaching for their children. Before Jordyn was born, I seriously never thought twice about parents spanking their kids. Even though I was never punished, it just seemed like something most people did. But the more I read and the more I reflect upon my own childhood and the things that made the biggest impacts on my life, I realize physical punishment, or really any type of punishment, is not necessary and can be harmful on many different levels.
      I love you and I hope you are doing well. <3

    • in regards to this incident – he told me a few days later that he would never hurt her. EVER. He tried to make it perfectly clear that he was just having a poor lapse of judgment on how he was feeling in the moment. We discussed when she was born that we never planned on using physical punishment. However, this was the first time I could tell he was really irritated with her, so it was pretty much his first “test”. I say that he passed. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Thank you for sharing this with us!!
    I am in the same situation with my DH and have been wondering how we are going to get through moments like these. He was raised under the “get a wooping” type of parenting that is very common in his culture. We have already had one instance and I’m hoping that was enough for him to make the same realization that yours did. “Little” was looking at a paper page book (not a board book) when she was about 11 months old. One page she was turning had a little tear in it and when she went to turn the page it ripped a little more. At that moment she went from looking at the book to experiencing something new….”wow this is cool!” and kept ripping it. That is when DH yelled at her to not rip up the book. She completely had a melt down and I picked her up immediately to comfort her. I looked at him and in a very calm manor asked him if he thought that was really necessary. He thought about it for a second and with a slight look of shame on his face he said no it wasn’t. She wasn’t being “bad” she was just learning something new she had never experienced before.

    It’s hard for us to unlearn everything that we were taught our entire lives through experience and example. I think it’s also important to be gentle with ourselves and know that we will make mistakes. It’s learning from them and making sure we don’t repeat them that is the important part.

    Thanks again for writing this!

  6. I have to say after reading this article that you are so very lucky to have Dan as a husband and a dad to three beautiful children. He is under alot of stress with all of the finances and taking such great care of his family yet he never ever complains of anything. When i was a kid, my dad would hit all six of us kids to make sure he got the right kid that had done something bad, and he used a belt. Dan is so laid back and has such a great sense of humor, you really could not do any better!!! And you Missy, you have turned out to be such a great Mom. I am so proud of you and Dan, you two are awesome parents. Your three kids are gonna be so happy that you and Dan are their parents. Love you all so much…….Mom

    • Kate,

      You have posted this under the comments section of this blog which means your daughter will not likely see this beautiful message! Maybe you could copy it and e mail it to her? It is so nice ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Agreed, agreed, agreed. My daughter is only 6 months old but I hope I will always be able to bite my tongue when she tests my patience when she’s older.

    Her father has several older children, who are disciplined through smacking – and they are only “good” when the threat of being hit is there. If there’s no chance of being hit, they have no reason to do as they are asked because nobody has ever sat down and talked to them and asked them nicely, and it’s heartbreaking because I know they will grow up to have children and perpetuate this way of life.

  8. I am a mom of 4 ages 13,11,9 and 1. I wish I would of known about gentle parenting when my older 2 were smaller especially my oldest. I think back and am ashamed of spanking him for things that was age appropriate behavior. And I believe he has anger Towards me for it. So I try hard everyday to inprove my parenting skills and try to pick and choose battles. And love them everyday.

  9. My boy has been a challenging child because of his disabilities, but never been outright disobedient or aggressive. Handling him, as far as gentle parenting goes, has been mostly easy because his behavior issues are all directly related to his condition.

    My girl, however, is now a toddler and has started doing things like hitting, screaming, and being aggressive. This is baffling, as that sort of behavior is not modeled in our house (my partner is not an attachment parent and he has privately disagreed with me on many parenting decisions that differ from the way we were both raised, but we have never quarreled in front of the kids). I homeschool and TV is limited, so she isn’t learning it from a classroom or TV either.

    My mother would have smacked me on the hand for hitting, even as a toddler. I don’t believe in hitting children, but telling my girl to be gentle and modeling gentle hands isn’t working. She hits everyone. Me, her brother, the dogs (despite every “pet nicely” I utter). How to I correct her behavior without having to yell at her or use the exact behavior I’m trying to eliminate?

    • Sarah, my son went through the same thing – and was being so aggressive toward our small dog. I had taught him “gentle” from a very early age so this was baffling to me as well. I ended up sending my dog to my parents just because it wasn’t fair to the dog. He did outgrow it within 6 months, and we have the dog back. Obviously you can’t do this with her brother, but hopefully it will help to know it can be a phase, and to keep at it. She’s probably going to outgrow it but hitting her will make it worse, I’m pretty sure.

      Have you noticed that maybe it’s happening when she’s overtired, or does she ever have food with artificial coloring, etc.? Those kinds of things can make a bigger difference than we realize.

      I just saw that your post is from December – well, has it changed any? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Dr. Laura at aha parenting has some good suggestions for that. I read one of her blog posts recently that addressed this.

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  11. Great article! I gentle parent my daughter (my husband and I were both spanked as kids) too… like your husband’s experience of struggling with it in this instance, I too sometimes struggle to not react in the moment. Thankfully I haven’t slipped up… too many times or in such major ways it has damaged us.

    I’ve really been trying out the gentle approach lately and had it put to the test while on my final placement for my primary teaching degree. My little kindergarten kids have a teacher who is controlling, unforgiving, and just down right unfair most of the time. One day I was so upset and angry with how she treated them all (for not being perfect at handwriting… is she kidding? They are 4 and 5 years old!). My husband stopped me after agreeing that it was a terrible experience for the kids and myself but simply said, ‘Stop worrying that you are helping with pulling these kids down and think about how you might have been placed there to soften the blow for them.’ It really made me think and now I see myself as their protector and the one to show forgiveness and love in their toughest moments.

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  13. lovely and true, why hit a child? and then try teaching then violence is wrong? Children needs love, patience, understanding and guidance, not a hand that hits.

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  16. Jennifer,

    I know this post is about spanking but can you speak about or direct me to a website/link on abuse through yelling or coercion/threats of discipline or misuse of authority (it all boils down to verbal abuse) as a replacement for physical abuse/spanking? I was spanked some as a child but as I grew older, the spanking was replaced with a garden variety of verbal abuse – all in the name of “saving” me from the horrors of the world. I’m trying to get through to my dad and show him that it was abuse and he is still abusing and why his way doesn’t work. In his mind – his way was successful because he credits “being hard on me” as the reason why I was never beaten up, raped, killed or any other horrible outcome.


  17. I agree with this article so much. My own experience has been that when my husband expressed doubts about the no spanking rule, I would say, they are no worse than children who are spanked and based on what we were being told by our friends and family, they were growing up as lovely little persons. That was often enough for him to put aside his worry until the next time. I kept this up and now at 22, 20 and 18 we have not regretted it for one moment. More than that, I have learnt how much children remember. For the most part our children say how happy they are that they were parented in the way that they were. However, the detail with which they remember the inevitable disciplinary measures that had to be taken from time to time – like being told that you couldn’t go to a party; or for my very sociable child, that you could not stay back late in school every day to socialize with your friends (only on Fridays) – I was very happy that being spanked was not one of those memories.