HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ava” is a pseudonym.
Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.
I dropped an egg on the floor.
Here we were, my mom and me baking together, and in my imperfection (would it be the sin of carelessness today?) I had made a mess and ruined the idyllic moment.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
I was shaking and nearly in tears. My mom, today, didn’t think it was a big deal, but I was too frightened to notice.
“Stop it,” she said, irritated at my fearful apology.
“I’m sorry,” I said — Oh no, I was irritating her now when she wasn’t irritated before.
“Stop, you are not an abused child!” Her voice was harsher now.
“Sorry!” I sobbed.
“Stop crying, you are not an abused child!”
I couldn’t. I tried.
“Stop or I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT.”
…Because I didn’t obey and stop crying immediately, I got a spanking. I needed to learn to control myself better. To stop crying when Mom said so, to only apologize fearfully when she was already irritated, lest I irritate her. I must learn to be obedient, to be holy, to be self-controlled. Until I did, Mom would never be happy with me. Jesus would never be happy with me.
I must be broken, humbled, so that I would be able to be good.
So I would obey immediately every time; so I would never question my parents and therefore know to never question God. To “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
…When I got yelled at because Dad thought I refused to share my bubblegum with my brother, I sat silent. To interrupt would probably change the lecture to a longer lecture and a spanking. Finally when he stopped, I explained softly that I had already shared with my brother.
Then, instead of apologizing for the false accusation, he praised me for taking his rebuke silently. He was pleased that I was contrite and broken, like Jesus, who was led like a lamb to the slaughter. Jesus, my ultimate example. Jesus, who didn’t defend himself.
My dad told the story of me, being Christ-like, any time he had the chance…
My brother once was forced to sit on a stool in the woodshop, watching while Dad cut out a paddle and sanded in finger grips on the handle, to spank him with when he was done. Dad was too angry to spank him right away, so he had to cool down by making a thick paddle first. We all remember the punishment, but the infraction that merited such a violent reaction was quickly forgotten.
Dad later put nails into the large wooden paddle to help lay carpet, and soon afterward, my brother needed another spanking, this time again bad enough to merit Dad using a paddle instead of a bare hand.
My younger brother panicked, screaming, “Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him!”
We both thought the paddle still had nails in it and Dad was going to use it as it was.
An irrational fear in my dad’s eyes, but not to us. Our parents believed they were obligated to break sin out of us at any cost, and there wasn’t too big a difference in our eyes from our naked skin being hit by thick wood, and being hit by thick wood with nails in it. It was all pain, pain to punish us for misbehaving, pain to break our spirits until we were good little children, and people would comment on our wonderful behavior when our nice little family went out.
They didn’t know the chewing out we would get on the way home for any misbehavior.
“Where did we go wrong with you? We have failed as parents. You simply won’t be good. Jesus is so upset with you. You always… you never… you spoiled brats. I don’t like you at all right now. I should make you walk home.”
“You know they used to stone rebellious sons, in the Old Testament times.”
So yeah, we were pretty damn good children.
When I was junior-high aged, I was timid. All the self-confidence spanked and shouted out of me. But now my parents said my timidity was sinful.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.”
My parents threatened to break my glasses and cut off my hair because I was hiding behind them, they said, instead of reflecting the power of Christ.
How could a broken child have power?
How could a child raised harshly have a spirit of love?
How could a child never taught to think through her feelings or listen to them have a sound mind?
Jesus was supposed to take the child they dutifully broke and fill her up with his power, only he never did.
I have instead set about the hard work of healing myself. I find my strength to parent my own children with love, but every once in a while I get stuck back in those memories of walking on eggshells. I go into my room by myself and I wonder in tears:
Why wasn’t I loved with a sweet, gentle love?
Why was I loved with a crushing, spirit-breaking love?
Why didn’t my parents really love me?
All my life I walked on eggshells, so eager to please my parents, so afraid to upset them.
Now I stomp on the eggshells. I refuse to try to please my parents anymore.
Our relationship is broken, like me, like the eggshells I tiptoed on for so long.
But I am free.