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.
The concept of spanking is something I have wrestled with for months now. Trying to go back and understand what was happening during my growing-up years is confusing. The cognitive dissonance threatens to overwhelm me completely, leaving me almost incapable of knowing anything.
But this I do know, now. Any form of hitting a child – no matter what you call it – is wrong.
I have not always believed that. As a teenager I read Shepherding a Child’s Heart and To Train up a Child and Withhold not Correction as though they were gospel truth. I planned on following in my mother’s footsteps, only I would do even better. My children would be even better-behaved, more respectful, more obedient.
It has been 2 years now of trying to grapple my way out of the cultures and mindsets that taught me hitting a child was not only okay, it was good … and even godly.
My Mother taught other moms how to spank ‘properly’. She would tell these moms the importance of being calm, of making sure the children displayed the correct ‘emotional response’ (sin produces grief, not anger), of making sure the swats were hard enough to deter the child from further sin. She would display the craft glue stick that she had chosen as ‘the rod’, laughing as she explained that it provided just the right amount of sting, plus, it was “flexible, so you can roll it up and put it in your pocket or purse – you can take it with you everywhere!” Mom would always insert that you should pray with the child and help them ask for forgiveness, and end the session with a hug.
Mom told us, “I’m doing this because God commands me to. It’s my job to help you learn the consequences for obedience. Once you’re older, you won’t be getting consequences from me, you’ll be accountable directly to God – and his consequences are bigger than anything I could ever dream of!”
My parents did spanking ‘by the books’, so to speak. Almost everyone we know would say I grew up in a loving, Godly family. In fact, I can’t count all the times people have told me how wonderful my family was. We were the community’s role models.
My mother broke a hard plastic kitchen spoon on my bottom.
My little brother once put on multiple pairs of underwear to lessen the pain – and it became a family joke.
Some days there were so many offenses that we would be lined up outside of Mom’s “office” (her bedroom), and when she finished spanking one of us, we’d be told to “Send the next one in!”
If we rolled away or flinched, Mom would scold, “Hold still or you’re just going to get more swats!”
My Dad’s spankings, which were much worse, would leave angry red welts that lasted for hours, making it painful to sit.
When Dad was spanking the other kids, I would run upstairs and bury my head under a pillow, trying to hide from the sound of screaming. He always told us that our screaming was just being dramatic … it wasn’t.
I would try and plead with my Dad to have mercy on my younger siblings, trying to explain what had happened, and he would walk past me and tell me to be quiet.
Dad stopped spanking me as I became a teenager, saying it ‘wasn’t appropriate’. But whenever he thought I deserved one, he’d call my mom to “Come on in here and spank her.”
When I was a teenager, Mom and I would have long arguments, ending in me getting spanked and giving in. I would cry out “You’re angry! You even say you’re not supposed to spank when you’re angry!” She would reply that she wasn’t angry – then hours later she would come back and apologize for spanking out of anger.
My last spanking was at age 16. Mom and I had been fighting for hours, and she told me if I interrupted her again, she would spank me. I interrupted her, and she made my lie down on the bed, pull down my pants, and she spanked me. The pain was nothing compared to the humiliation. I broke and said whatever she wanted to hear as an apology, and went through the motions of hugging and saying ‘I love you’ – before escaping to my room to cry.
When I brought up that incident to Mom recently, she declared indignantly that she never spanked any of us for interrupting – I was going to get spanked anyways, and interrupting just made it happen faster. She didn’t see spanking at age 16 as a problem. She used to say the rod was for the back of the fool, and as long as we were acting like a fool, we needed to be spanked.
My parents say I’m bitter because I’ve been reading all of the homeschool survivor blogs. They tell me I’m re-interpreting history, making up accusations, and that they can’t even visit me because they don’t know what I’ll attack my mother with next.
When I’m around a family who spanks their children, I have a hard time not panicking when they take their children into another room, because I know what’s happening. My friend tells me it’s okay because she always reconciles with her children afterwards. I wanted to scream, because my mother did that, too.
When I visit with my niece and nephew, I feel physically ill watching them be subjected to the constant power struggles, spankings, and threats of spankings.
When I’m around these families, anxiety just builds and builds, and I inevitably break down with my husband later.
I was taught that my parents hurt me because they loved me, and that God would do the same.
I am unable to talk to my parents because I can’t sort out the love and care they gave me from the punishments, control, and manipulation. I get sick wondering if they treat my younger siblings the same way.
I don’t know if I want to have kids because I’m afraid I’ll revert to my parent’s methods of training them, because that’s all I’ve ever known.
I’m terrified of God. I physically can’t go to church, because it’s not worth the panic attack or the resulting depression. I’m so scared that God will send me to hell, but I can’t trust him. I long to believe he loves me, but if his love is the twisted definition my parents gave me, I don’t want it.
Thank you for giving this words.
This could be my family’s story from beginning to end. I’m so sorry.
Victoria, I was once afraid of God too, not for the same reasons, but I had a similar fear that he was waiting for me to screw up so he could strike me down. He doesn’t do that, God does not entrap his children, he does not betray your trust, and he is not looking for any excuse to send you to hell. He is waiting for you to trust in him so he can heal you from you past experiences. If you are afraid of going to church, try taking a special hour or so on a Sunday for a quiet time to pray and open up your troubles to him. He is always listening, and I turn to him any time I have deep anxiety about something. Giving your life and control over to him is deeply liberating, it’ll allow you to roll with the punches life throws at you, because in reality, we never have the control we think we do in our lives. I hope you read this and find it useful.
Your last statement really speaks to me. My mother recently told me that I am not raising my children “in the fear of God,” and that we are commanded to fear Him. Her implication was that my children are not afraid enough for their own good, because I have not modeled God for them by making them afraid of me.
That very Sunday our Orthodox priest spoke on the difference between “awe” and “fear” and how sad it is that so many Christians think their relationship with God must be based in fear. And then a couple of days later I saw a quote from one of the saints shared by an Orthodox friend, who said “I no longer fear God, but I love Him.” I felt very vindicated. My mom will never understand, but I am happy that my children don’t fear me, or God. Fear cannot breed love. I often heard growing up that “Perfect love casteth out fear,” but I know without a doubt that verse never implied that loving the object of your fear will alleviate that fear. It means that love will give us courage, which is a different interpretation entirely.
I relate to every word of this story. Every. Single. Word.
Me too, Darcy.
No child should fear their parents. .I feel I’ll just remembering some of those fights where I got hit for interrupting. .I hope at some point you can heal from that horror and manipulation your parents put you through