I’ve read Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap and I watched the series on ABC. I was firmly on the side of the mum, Rosie. I remember arguing with my friends about it. I thought that if anyone ever hit my kid, I would be filled with rage and I would make sure that person was punished as harshly as possible.
And then it happened.
I have two primary school-aged children. One keeps to the rules and does as adults ask and gets awards for good behaviour at school. The other doesn’t.
My daughter has ADHD. She pushes boundaries. She’s really hard work at times. She’s also fiercely loving and loyal and honest and wonderful in so many ways.
She does a couple of activities outside of school that she really enjoys. One is with a group run by volunteer parents.
I dropped her off as usual a few weeks back, and when I came to pick her up, she ran out to see me, yelling out something about one of the parent leaders: “He slapped me! He slapped me on the bottom!”
One of the other mums came up to me.
“I saw the whole thing,” she said. “He did slap her.”
Obviously my first concern was for my daughter. She told me that the slap had left a red mark, but by the time I looked, it had gone. She told me it didn’t hurt anymore.
I went in to talk to the parent leader.
“I have never, ever smacked my kids,” I told him. “I don’t believe in hitting children. No matter what my daughter did, you shouldn’t have slapped her.”
He sat, slumped, just staring at the ground. It was obvious that he knew what he’d done was completely out of line and he was going to be in trouble over it.
One of the other parent leaders came up to tell me that the man who slapped my daughter would be asked not to return to the group. That’s what happened.
I told my daughter about it. She was feeling guilty that it was all her fault, because she wasn’t doing as she was told.
“He shouldn’t have hit you,” I said. “That’s never okay. No one should ever hit you, or touch you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable. And if it happens and no one else is around, tell me. We will get it sorted out, like we got it sorted out this time. He did the wrong thing, and he got in trouble for it, and he won’t be a leader anymore.”
To me, that was it. It was over. Sorted. I felt glad that the incident was taken seriously and action was taken so quickly – that this man, who probably didn’t have the right temperament to work with kids, was removed.
My daughter didn’t mention it again. I hoped that she would move on from it, just like she moves on so quickly from all the grazed knees and banged heads of childhood.
A few days later, someone from the group rang me to officially apologise. She asked if I wanted to take the matter further and have criminal charges laid against the man.
My immediate thought was no. And then I thought about it a bit more, and it was still no.
I didn’t want to make my daughter relive the experience when she seemed to have put it behind her. I didn’t want it to become something huge in her life.
But it wasn’t just that. I didn’t feel the overpowering rage against this man that I thought I would feel. He’d done the wrong thing. I knew it, he knew it, everyone knew it. But he was just a parent who had volunteered for a role that he probably wasn’t suited to. He’d been removed from the role, and he would have to live with that shame. I didn’t want to bring charges against him, and maybe have him end up with a criminal record.
I will still never smack either of my kids. I never want them to fear me, and I never want them to feel that violence, in any form, is acceptable.
My daughter knows that I am looking out for her. She is going to be okay, and that’s what matters.