I’ll never forget the moment when I realized birthday spankings were weird. I was in my first semester of college, surrounded by new friends in our dorm room. We were talking about home—our parents, siblings, hometowns and traditions. We were building friendships by sharing parts of ourselves we hadn’t yet revealed to one another.
Somehow, the topic of birthdays came up. Wistfully, we all began listing off our best birthday memories: the parties at Discovery Zone, Barbie birthday cakes, our favorite presents. We laughed over less-than-perfect celebrations, too, and shared what we didn’t like. No one enjoyed sharing parties with siblings or cousins and more than one of us was still waiting for that party at Discovery Zone or Chuck E. Cheese or another fun (but expensive) location. “Oh, and birthday spankings,” I contributed with a roll of eyes, expecting a chorus of agreement.
Instead, I was met with blank stares. “You know, birthday spankings? From your parents?” I added helpfully. I remember thinking that maybe they just misheard me.
“You got spanked on your birthday?! Whaaaat?” one of my friends half-laughed, with more than a little concern in her voice.
Soon questions filled the room.
Who did the spanking? How old were you? Was it a punishment? Do you still get spanked?
“No one else had birthday spankings?” I weakly asked my new friends. They all slowly shook their heads, bewildered.
Nope, it was just me. I was alone.
* * *
But I wasn’t alone. I knew I wasn’t the only kid that got birthday spankings. My sisters did, too, and so did my cousins. Were we the only extended family in America that did this?
I’ve since learned that no, we weren’t. But I’ve also learned that on the rare occasion that the subject of birthday spankings comes up, most people react as my college friends did. They’re usually stunned into silence before erupting with questions.
Let me answer some of those questions here.
Birthday spankings were not a punishment. Parents and siblings would give the birthday kid a spanking, one for each year they were celebrating. Turning eight? Then you’d get eight slaps on the butt.
The spankings were light and didn’t hurt—unless siblings were getting them in without parental supervision. That hurt. But it wasn’t supposed to.
I remember everyone laughing. It was fun when it was happening. It didn’t seem weird at the time. It wasn’t malicious or sexual. It was just another part of the day.
Here’s the part that I hated, though: When the spankings were done, my family would add a pinch to the butt, saying, “and a pinch to grow an inch!” I was the baby in my family and short, so the running joke was that I really needed that pinch. The spankings didn’t hurt—the pinches, especially from my sisters, did.
But again, I can’t stress this enough: These things didn’t seem strange to me! I didn’t feel abused or uncomfortable. It was just part of the birthday celebrations.
They tapered off somewhere near the end of elementary. I don’t remember if there was a hard rule in my family. I think the adults just knew that eventually, kids get too old for birthday spankings.
So no, I wasn’t still getting birthday spankings in college. Nor do I get them now. For me, they’re a thing of the past. And that’s where they’ll stay.
I have no intention of continuing birthday spankings with my kids.
For starters, we don’t spank our kids. Ever. Why would we start on their birthday?
Secondly, while I don’t remember ever feeling uncomfortable as a child, I’m definitely uncomfortable talking about it as an adult. I understand the strange reactions that other people have to the concept of birthday spankings. That’s how I would probably feel, too, if I hadn’t grown up with them.
And even though they didn’t hurt when administered by parents, the birthday spankings from my sisters usually did. Why would I want to encourage my children to hurt each other—on their birthdays, no less?
So no, I won’t be doing birthday spankings with my kids. It’s just one tradition that I have no desire to pass on.