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.
My parents didn’t spank in anger, usually.
They were convinced that they were practicing biblical discipline.
They believed that spankings were to be delivered calmly, leave no serious injury (red marks and the occasional bruise were OK), end with reconciliation and a forced hug, and be painful. As a child I was spanked nearly every day. But I got off easy.
Dad said that children in the old testament got stoned to death for rebelliousness, so it was a good thing I didn’t live back then.
Spankings ranged from three to ten swats. I remember feeling really lucky the few times I only got one or two. Mom and Dad both spanked but it hurt more when Dad did it. I think that was just because Mom wasn’t capable of hitting as hard. When Dad spanked he swung with his whole arm like he was trying to hit a home run on our butts. We weren’t allowed to keep our pants on, but usually we could keep on our underwear.
When Mom or Dad spanked it was painful enough to make me see stars. One time after getting spanked by Dad the pain was so much I almost vomited. When I told my Dad this he laughed and said that was impossible.
We were supposed to be still and quiet while receiving a spanking. If we resisted at all we got spanked more. Spankings with our hands in the way didn’t count. If we screamed we got spanked more, and told that CPS would come and take us and we’d never see our family again. We were allowed to cry, but it had to be sorry cries, not angry cries, or we would just be spanked more.
My Dad chose wooden instruments that would leave as few outward marks as possible. Usually something flat like a wooden kitchen spatula. As my brother got older Dad spanked him more, and harder. He started breaking wooden spoons and spatulas on him. Dad made a paddle out of a thick piece of wooden molding or something. It was about two and a half inches wide, half or three quarters of an inch thick, and a couple feet long. He drilled a couple big holes in it so that there would be no air cushion, that it would sting as much as possible.
I always thought I was a bad kid. We got spanked more than anyone else we knew, so it followed that we must be the most disobedient. It didn’t occur to my childish mind that maybe my parents were spanking too much. I remember when I was eight years old realizing that I had gone three days without a spanking.
I thought that was really cool because I had set a record for being good.
Maybe if I had gone on that long I’d be able to be good forever and never get a spanking again. Alas, I got a spanking later that day.
I always wished I could be my cousins. It must be easy for them to be good. I wished it was easy for me to be good. I didn’t understand why it was so hard for me to be good. Impossible, in fact. My parents explained that it was because I was a sinner, but that didn’t explain why I was apparently a worse sinner than anyone else my age. I couldn’t wait to grow up, because grown-ups don’t sin — that’s why they don’t get spankings. My last spanking was when I was twelve, I think, but the threat didn’t go away. Mom would tell me that a teenaged friend of mine still got spankings for rolling her eyes, so I’d better watch myself.
My parents stated goal in all this discipline was to break our wills.
A child’s will was something evil, something that needed to be eradicated.
They never really explained what this meant in detail, but it had something to do with us never having desires that misaligned with theirs. I can only imagine that the desired result was to condition us to have a visceral reaction to the thought of going against their wishes. It worked very well on me. I learned early on that the best way to cope was just to go along with what they wanted, to say what they wanted to hear, to hold still and not resist, it would be over most quickly that way.
It didn’t work so well on my brother, he would fight. Not fight physically — he’d fight by not crying, or by saying that the spanking didn’t hurt. That’s why Dad had to hit him so hard that wood broke against his flesh.
Yet, I’m not convinced that my strategy was better. It seemed so at the time because it was the path of least pain, but there were long-term consequences. For years into adulthood I wasn’t able to act in my own best interest. Doing something just because it was the best decision for me was so far off my radar I rarely contemplated it. I lived my life with pleasing my parents in mind. It wasn’t even conscious, it just was. When I started making decisions I knew they would disagree with I had physical reactions that were so intense I would sometimes be incapacitated for days. It would start with my whole body shaking, then my throat would close up. Then my heart rate would soar, like my heart was trying to escape my chest. My mind would race, and then I would start vomiting. Even after the vomiting stopped it would take a day or so before I could eat normally again. It would take several to get my energy back.
I’m shaking just writing this post.
My parents always told me that they spanked us because they loved us. It is true that they loved us. But I don’t think that was their primary motivation in spanking.
Spanking gave them a tremendous amount of power over us: power to break and then remake us according to their will.