Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.
They Spanked Me “Right”: Darcy’s Story
My parents disciplined us “right” — just like the books said.
They were always calm and loving, rarely spanking out of anger. They truly loved us and believed that if they did not punish for wrong-doing with a spanking, we would not turn into good, moral people. They were not selfish and did nothing for their own benefit, but for ours.
Usually, a discipline session would start when one of us would do something wrong. This could be any infraction from “back-talking” to disobedience to lying. And “back-talking” could mean anything other than “yes, ma’am”. Because obedience should be instant and cheerful with no negotiating or it’s not true obedience. We could not have an opinion, only first-time obedience.
We would get sent to our parent’s room to wait til it was convenient to them to come discipline us. There were times when they’d forget they sent us there. Then they’d feel guilty and let us off the hook.
We often hoped they’d forget about us.
We’d sit there waiting in mental agony. One of them would come into the room, sit us on their lap when we were little, or when we were older, just sit next to us on the bed. They somberly explain that foolishness is bound in the heart of a child and a spanking will drive it far from us. That children are to obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right. That they had to spank us because they had to obey God and God wanted them to punish our sin, just like God punishes their sins. Then we’d lay on the bed, often with our pants off since pants provided cushion from the blows, and get 3-4 swats with a wooden spoon or switch, never their hands (although hands were last resort if they couldn’t find a wooden spoon). If we resisted at all, it would be another 3-4 swats for not submitting to the deserved punishment.
I had a very difficult time laying there still while being hit so I often got double or triple spankings.
Submission and a broken will were just as important as the punishment for our sins. After all, if your heart is not right, what good will a punishment do? They’d then hug us for a while, tell us they loved us, that they had to do this because they loved us and loved God and wanted to obey God. I remember seeing tears in their eyes on occasion.
When they said “this hurts me more than it hurts you” I believe they really believed that and that it really did hurt them.
Not everyone trapped in fundamentalism can completely shut off their hearts.
I often sat there in rage waiting for my parents to come spank me, angry at myself for getting caught or not being able to keep my mouth shut, making myself feel better by plotting all kinds of revenge on them. I have a very distinct memory of being 6 years old and laying on my bed after a spanking, rage consuming me, longing for the day when I was bigger and stronger and I could hit them back, dreaming of all the violent things I would do to my mom. This made me feel overwhelmingly guilty yet satisfied at the same time.
The very last time I was spanked, I was 13 years old. I had “back-talked” to my mom, and in a fury she sent me to my room. She came in to spank me and I initially tried to submit, but I couldn’t take it any more. I was taller than her by that time. I turned around and tried to grab the spoon, defending myself. She became even more enraged, but I also sensed her surprise. We repeated this multiple times, both of us crying, until she gave up and told me to stay there til my dad came home. Hours later, Dad came into the room and sat down. I was sullen and depressed. But, for the first time, I realized that I was able to stop them now and this elated me. Dad talked to me, I don’t remember what was said or if I was even listening at that point, but that was the end of the day-long discipline battle. They never tried spanking me again. My other siblings weren’t spanked past 8 or 9 years old.
My parents were often asked “How do you get your kids to obey like they do? Your children are so well-behaved!” They’d smile and counsel other parents on godly discipline. I smiled on the outside like the good girl I was, but on the inside I seethed and thought “if only you and they knew that we’re just really good at not getting caught.”
Spanking and authoritarian parenting didn’t make us “good kids”.
It made us sneakier kids, clever kids, kids who knew how to play the system to get what we wanted and avoid what we didn’t.
I daresay that when people proclaim “My parents spanked us right, never in anger”, they would describe a spanking like my parents practiced. And perhaps their parents were like mine, good people duped into thinking that if they didn’t punish and control their children, those children would end up rebels, perverts, and in jail. They took literally the proverb that promised if children are beaten, their souls would be saved from hell. Parents like mine were not the abusers you read about: people who were perverted and got off on beating their kids. They were not evil. Yet they practiced abusive parenting techniques because they listened to the wrong people, accepted fear as a motivator, and gave in to the tantilizing promise that they could direct their children’s future “in the way they should go”.
They made the wrong choices for all the right reasons.
Stories of horrendous abuse abound in our circles, but I write this to show that abuse happened even among the non-extreme families, inflicted by the parents who only wanted good for their kids. That abuse in discipline is not just physical but often psychological and almost always spiritual.
I saw what I now know to be glimpses of empathy and doubt in my parents, the logic inherent in them trying to get through the illogical spiritual abuse of the system that they were in, that they were inflicting on their kids. It’s not so easy to just be angry at them when I see them as victims of pervasive spiritual abuse. Yet they did have a choice.
They chose that abusive system, a system that hurt them and hurt their children.
Eventually much later, they chose to leave it. But that was not before the damage had been done, damage I and my siblings and my parents are still recovering from a decade later. My story and others like mine are complicated. The emotions that follow us are complicated. Rage and anger are mixed with empathy and forgiveness, and there’s no telling which one of those will come out on any given day — as memories come to the surface and our stories are processed and healed. I have given myself permission to feel them all, without trying to justify my feelings to myself.
Yes, they loved me. But they also hurt me. One of those is not more real than the other.
My parents spanked us “right”. Yet it was all still so very wrong.