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I stopped at Target to fill a prescription. As I was leaving I happened to be walking through the exit with two adult women and two young girls. One of the children had to be around two or three years old and the other no older than seven.

“GET THE FUCK BACK HERE”  I was as stunned by the volume as I was by seeing a woman yank a toddler violently through the air by the wrist. The woman proceeded to discipline her child in the same angry and extremely loud manner about the necessity of paying attention when cars are close. Taking five steps away from that family, I stepped into the parking lot and began heading toward my vehicle.

It happened that as I was getting in my car I had a direct view of that same family getting into their vehicle. However, I was inside of my vehicle and unable to hear the volume at which the interactions took place. The mother was still very flamboyantly chastising the three year old. As they came around the side of their van, the older child was waiting to get in. The mother very quickly turned her attention and started flamboyantly gesturing at that child. Just as fast, she punched that little girl in the chest … and then she pulled back, AND SHE DID IT AGAIN.

I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. I was shocked. Stunned.

My phone started ringing. It was my fiancé calling to see how I was doing. I completely lost it right there. I was sobbing, borderline hysterical, as I attempted to describe every little detail of what happened. From the moment the woman nearly deafened me by the exit all the way to watching that poor little girl fly backwards as her mother punched her.

I was heartbroken for that poor little girl. I don’t know the circumstances. I can’t begin to say what she might have been doing wrong. Regardless, I fail to be able to justify what a little child could be doing that would warrant a punch like that. And not even one, but two brutal punches. I struggle to articulate how difficult it was for me to watch that happen.

I spank my children. I have slapped their hands, swatted their butts, and even smacked their mouths once or twice. I firmly believe sometimes it takes something shocking to get a child’s attention and strategically used corporal punishment is sometimes just the thing to do it.  I only slap, swat, or smack when I think the situation is extreme enough to warrant it.  And when I do, the girls know things just got serious.

My oldest, Patience, takes physical punishments much harder than her sister Prudence. When she is hit, no matter how light or rough the swat, it hurts her to her core. She is emotionally wounded. The pain of someone wanting to hit her is worse than the actual pain the smack brings. I think it is part of the reason she is such a well behaved child. She inherently seeks to please and when she fails it is a blow to her self esteem or ego. Pouring salt in the wound with a slap or a hit is almost too much for her to handle.

Prudence also does not enjoy being hit. However, when she gets smacked she doesn’t take it personally. You can see she understands the punishment is because of her action. When we really want to drive a point home, harder slaps are the way to go. Yet even still, the first emotion to flash across her face to my hand slap or butt swat is that of hurtful shock. It’s that look that makes it so difficult for me to punish my children. I always feel like I have done something extremely horrible to make them look at me in such a sad way.

That little girl didn’t look at her mom like that. It was a dull stare of acceptance that she returned her mother. A fresh round of tears came as that point really began to sink in. That child at the tender age of six (a birthday Patience just celebrated yesterday) could no longer look at her mother and be surprised she would hurt her. She wasn’t even surprised her mother would punch her. The depth of sadness I feel is overwhelming. For that child. For that mother. For the pain that family must have suffered through and continue to deal with.

Sometimes I feel like a really bad mom. My house is always a mess. I can be really short-tempered and I have extremely high expectations, perhaps a bit too idealistic, but nonetheless I expect a lot of my children and can be quite harsh. I yell, I forget, I fail to plan. I mess so many things up. I could go on and on about all the ways I could be a better mother. At the end of the day, I really am doing the best I can with what I’ve been given.

I just hope my best never takes the light out of their eyes.