by | Nov 2, 1997 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I was hit as a child. I was spanked and I was slapped. I was smacked in the face when I said something dirty, and I was chased up the stairs for a butt-whipping when I did something really wrong, which in our house meant insulting my mother. My father did the hitting when that happened. It wasn’t pretty.

Still, I always felt a difference between being spanked and being abused. There was never a question, even as I cried into my pillow, that my parents did not love me. My thoughts were pretty much “I better not do this again, or it’ll really hurt,” which I think was the whole idea.

Anyhow, we didn’t talk about abuse back then. If my tail was sore or my face was red from a slap, I didn’t think about a lawyer. It would have been preposterous.

Not anymore. You can find a legal case in pretty much any room in the house these days. Which may explain why a Brighton woman is facing trial for smacking her 18-year-old daughter last April.

Never mind that this daughter, a senior in high school at the time, had been
— if you believe her mother — spending nights with a male college student, regularly disappearing from home, drinking alcohol, showing no respect for her parents’ privacy, using foul language, and generally acting as insolent and maddening as teenagers who think they know it all can act.

Never mind that, according to the mother, she tried talking to her child, scolding her, grounding her, taking away the car, the phone, and all the other thing parents try in attempting to discipline teens.

Never mind that on the weekend in question, according to the mother, the daughter went to her boyfriend’s again, despite pleas to stay home and help around the house. And when she finally returned she was rude and used foul language.

So her mother slapped her — “twice, with an open hand,” she says.

Now she’s going to court.

Turn of events

When Debbie Skousen got the letter saying she was being charged with a crime, she was stunned. Her daughter had gone to school the next day “with no bruising or signs of abuse,” Skousen says.

Yet a state trooper who later filed a report wrote that Rebecca, the daughter, had been sent to a care center by school counselors, and a doctor there noted bruising. Debbie Skousen disputes the report, suggests the whole thing is being orchestrated by her daughter, and clearly objects to this particular police officer’s involvement, perhaps because his son has dated Skousen’s oldest daughter, who is also siding against the mother.

“We do not abuse our children,” says Skousen, who has a third daughter and two sons. When I asked whether Rebecca was ever struck before, she said, “Once, a few years ago. We do not often use corporal punishment. And remember, please, it’s smacking, not hitting.”

Skousen believes she has the right to discipline her children. Or at least to try. She has found a chorus of support from parents around the country who are tired of lawyers appearing at every turn of what used to be considered normal family life. If her daughter had been 17 instead of 18, Skousen could be facing child-abuse charges. Instead, it’s aggravated domestic assault, punishable by up to a year in jail.

Punishable? Who’s more punishable now? The kids or the parents?

Our amazing society

Now, don’t misunderstand. No one is defending child abuse. And, yes, some have a problem between acceptable discipline and over-the-top violence.

But if smacking your kid for being fresh is now punishable by prison, well, you wonder who’s going to have kids anymore. I don’t know how Rebecca — who moved out that night and has not spoken to her mother since — plans on attacking her mother’s character in the trial.

But I bet her lawyers will build a case.

Critics say Skousen shouldn’t hit an 18-year-old. And maybe 18 is too old for smacking. But is it a crime? And if 18-year-old high schoolers are so grown-up they have rights and privileges, don’t they also have responsibilities? Can they be taken to court for being lousy kids? For being abusive to parents in words or actions?

Wait. Let’s not give lawyers any ideas.

“I was originally told I could plead guilty or be charged with a felony,” Skousen says. “But I refused to plead guilty.

“People say I should have told her to move out. But it’s not that easy. Despite all the things she did, she kept insisting that as long as she was in high school, we were obligated to take care of her.”

I don’t know who’s right here. I don’t know who’s hiding what. But I think back to the smacks I took as a kid. I think of how much I still love my parents. And I wonder when the world turned into one big courtroom.

Mitch Albom will sign “Tuesdays With Morrie,” 12:30 today, B. Dalton, Summit Place Mall; 7 p.m. Wednesday, Waldenbooks, Southgate Mall; and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Barnes & Noble, Northville. To leave a message for Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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