“Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad!”
The first time I heard South Asian comedian Russell Peters say that catchphrase — mimicking his father’s threat of a beating — I laughed along with the TV audience. I couldn’t see their ethnicity, but I’m guessing it was made up of his fans who come from cultures that staunchly believe in the “spare the rod, spoil the child” philosophy.
I could relate. I grew up in India, where my strict father would send me and my sister to find sticks for our own caning. (Thicker willow branches were immensely preferable to thin bamboo reeds, which sang through the air before lashing our palms.) My other first-generation immigrant friends and I have traded war stories about our parents’ catchphrases, all variations on the same theme — we were about to get a tight slap; wait ’til we got a sound thrashing; our hides were going to be black and blue. We chuckled at our Canadian friends’ concerned looks. They thought it was child abuse. We thought it was just part of growing up.
But now that I’m a parent myself, corporal punishment isn’t so funny anymore. Before my daughter, Mallika, was born, my British-born South Asian husband, Rajesh, and I already knew that I was going to be the stricter parent. Based on the way I was raised, I had set ideas of how to bring up a baby — early to bed, early to rise, no TV in the morning, no fussing over food, no whining in general — the list was long. Rajesh, meanwhile, espoused a more go-with-the-flow philosophy. Even so, when we saw other kids throwing tantrums, we would mutter that the child needed a proper telling off. Of course, everything changed when we became parents. Now,as the often-harried mom to eight-month-old Dax and almost three-year-old Mallika, discipline is a frequent topic of discussion at our house.
When she was a baby, I used to regularly hand Mallika off to my then-working-at-home husband. But now that she’s grown into a toddler and Rajesh has gone back to working in an office, I find myself getting a troubling tingle in my hands in reaction to little things like spilled milk or crayon scribbles on the wall. I hear myself lash out in Hindi with the same words I heard as a child:
“You will understand to behave when you get a slap!”
I sound just like my father.
I was a pretty angry kid; I don’t want to be an angry parent. I don’t think beatings actually work, for one thing. Any thrashing I was about to receive never stopped me from making mischief. And as I grew up, I literally developed a thick skin. I became accustomed to the occasional slaps, responding to orders to lower my eyes with a defiant glare.
These days, we’re experimenting with time outs — which give both of us a moment to calm down. Then there are the meltdown tantrums, when all I can do is hug her. And, of course, there are days when I lapse and yell, but usually I try to just walk away.
I’m not sure what will happen when she starts challenging my authority more. Maybe then I’ll have to start relying on another one of my father’s catchphrases, the always annoying but logical: “As long as you live under my roof, you will have to play by my rules!”
Aparita Bhandari is a Toronto journalist and mother of two.
A version of this article appeared in our March 2013 issue with the headline “Corporal mom,” p. 50.