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 wish I hadn’t done a lot of things, and wish I could change other things, but basically, I have one regret in my life. One thing that I wish I had done differently. One thing that still angers me to think about, because of the cruelty.
Thanks to a friend of mine who posted the link on facebook, I read an article titled “First time obedience, really?” First-time obedience is something that is extremely important in my family. It pretty much goes along with formula parenting. The example my dad would always use as to the merits of first-time obedience is if one of his very small children ran out into the street (which wouldn’t happen anyway), and a car came, he would say “Stop!” or “Come back!” and they would do it immediately, unlike (again, his example) “your cousins”. (Sorry, uncles and aunts. Don’t feel bad, though…at least your kids still have brains that aren’t being controlled!)
So while seeing the downside to it (which I will elaborate on in a minute), I was also warring inside myself. It would save someone from death, right? So it’s good? But on the other hand, I saw what happened, and it was most certainly not good.
Two years old. Rebellious. Self-willed. Wicked. Too young to like or dislike anything. Too young to have opinions.
Uhh yeah, that’s my parents for you. They don’t believe in the “terrible twos”…they believe in “terrible hearts”.
You know, the verse in Proverbs that says foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child but the rod of correction will drive it from him. And the verse that the heart is wicked and who can know it. So the first problem is, they don’t come to parenting with the view that these are people. They come to parenting with the view that these are wicked little sinners who need a radical change, whose thoughts and feelings and opinions and likes and dislikes don’t matter because it is all selfish willfulness.
Cue the dinner table. There’s a very small child in the high chair, whom dad is feeding. This child is a baby, really…crawling, maybe walking; can’t even say real words yet.
“Open up!” dad says, moving the spoon towards her.
She accepts that bite, but doesn’t like the food, and spits it back out.
“No, you eat it,” dad says, scooping it back up and attempting to give it to her again.
She makes a disgusted face and turns her head. We all laugh at the cute little shudder she makes.
“Don’t laugh, it encourages her,” dad says, still trying to force the bite with the slightly more stern command “Open”. He presses the spoon against her soft mouth, trying to force it open.
When she continues resisting, he moves her head to face him and commands sternly, “Open.”
She may open her mouth at that point, or she may not; in which case he takes the tray off the chair and gives her a few loud swats, sets her back down, and resumes with the “open” stuff.
Meanwhile the rest of us try to ignore it and eat our dinners.
If she still doesn’t open her mouth, again with the swats, and she sits there crying, looking at him with terror in her eyes, her nose running all over the place. If her mouth is open from crying, he shoves it in. If she tries to spit it out, he doesn’t let her, and she accepts that she has to keep it in her mouth.
Then comes the battle to get her to swallow.
What one- or two-year-old do you know who knows the meaning of the word “swallow”, let alone “open”? Most one- and two-year-olds are lucky to know the word “no”.
I’m sitting there, dying inside, longing to take her in my arms, wipe her tears, blow her nose, and cuddle her safe in my arms.
Nobody, not even mom, was allowed to give her any comfort. Not even dad did, until she did whatever he wanted. And if he got tired of spanking her, he sent her to bed…and when she got up she had to eat the same thing she disliked. Because her likes and dislikes didn’t matter.
Nothing mattered except that she obeyed the first time, every time.
My only regret is that I didn’t stick up for her, for them, every time it happened with I don’t know how many of them, probably all, at one time or another.
The last time it happened when I was there, I was so close to exploding that had he spanked her one more time, I would have done something. I just wish I had…that I had stood up long before.
And that is my regret.