Hurts Me More Than You: Introduction and Abiram’s Story

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By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator 

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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.

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Corporal punishment has become a national conversation after a former NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) was indicted for child abuse in Texas.

Pictures of the injuries (trigger warning: graphic wounds) can be seen here. A surprisingly large group of people defended Peterson’s actions, many cited his intent to “reasonably” discipline his son, or their own harsh treatment as children. Sean Hannity literally removed his belt and beat his news desk, later remarking that he “deserved” a punch to the face from his father:

These responses remind me of my childhood and young adult, when I thought being spanked bare-bottomed with a plumbing line marketed as “The Rod” was reasonable. It shocked me to the core to realize that The Rod was a literal embodiment of the “plumbing line” advocated by child-abuse manuals like Michael and Debbie Pearl’s To Train Up a Child. The same plumbing line that left no visible marks, but killed Lydia Schatz because it broke down her muscles leading to organ failure.

In my own life, spanking predictably created in me a violent child. My parents always note my “sensitivity” as a very young child, then they became fundamentalists and the corporal punishments increased. Suddenly, I hurt animals, got in fights with neighbors, began my obsession with war, justified violence, and I often fantasized about engaging in violent actions. G.A. Henty’s historical fictions did nothing but stir up those fantasies.

It wasn’t until I read about the impacts of spanking on children that I connected the dots. Antisocial behavior, violence against animals, violent fantasies are all more likely as the frequency and intensity of corporal punishment increases (see endnote for academic reading).

I have wanted to start a conversation about this, but I couldn’t harness the energy for an extensive post on the topic. I’m an ardent football fan and my conversations with abuse apologists on internet forums the last two weeks have been exhausting. Today, “Abiram” sent me his story, similarly inspired by conversations about Adrian Peterson.

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Abiram’s Story

“Are your parents dying?

Are you being persecuted for being a Christian?

Then why are you crying?”

I can’t even count the number of times I heard those words. Always associated with a spanking. For most people. The Adrian Peterson story is either a non-story or something that just doesn’t make sense. For me, it is inescapably real. I have been hit with a paint stirrer, a pizza paddle, a belt, a dowel. Always accompanied by the saying “this hurts me more than it hurts you.” But it doesn’t. Have you ever stared into a mirror wishing that either you would die or your parents would. Have you ever clenched your jaw thinking that maybe your were demon possessed. Have you ever avoided talking to a parent for days because you thought the Holy Spirit would tell them that you had unconfessed sin?

Well I have.

It seems laughable to most, but it is real for me. I was spanked for disagreeing about my actions. Spanked for covering my bottom from swats with the paint stirrer. Spanked hours after being corrected because no lesson would be complete without physical punishment. No one should think back on their childhood and have their most poignant memories be of pain, but I do. My parents weren’t monsters. They can’t be dismissed as an aberration. They are mainstream America. There are no bruises on me today. No physical scars. All the welts have healed.

But my childhood will stay with me till the day I die and possibly after that. I can remember every time in the last 13 years that I have cried. Each time because I felt like someone else had been hurt, not me. But reading about Peterson reminds me that I was hurt. That my brothers and sisters were hurt. May still be hurt. And I don’t know how to make that better. And that kills me inside almost as much as those swats with the belt…. Don’t kid yourself and think that your children won’t remember what happens when they are children.

 We remember everything.

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What was your experience with corporal punishment?

Describe your experience with physical discipline in less than 400 words, in any format — first person, stream of consciousness, short essay, et al. How did the corporal punishment impact you as a child and does it continue to impact you as an adult? If you have children of your own, what is your reaction to the thought of disciplining them as you were?

Submit your stories to: homeschoolersanonymous@gmail.com

Endnotes:

  • “Spanking and the Making of a Violent Society,” Murray A. Straus, Pediatrics 98, no. 4 (October 1996), 836-842. [Link]
  • Murray A. Straus, Emily M. Douglas, Rose Anne Medeiros, The Primordial Violence: Spanking Children, Psychological Development, Violence, and Crime (Routledge, 2013). [Link to Preface]
  • Akemi Tomoda, MD, PhD, Hanako Suzuki, MA, Keren Rabi, MA, Yi-Shin Sheu, BS, Ann Polcari, PhD, and Martin H. Teicher, MD, “Reduced Prefrontal Cortical Gray Matter Volume in Young Adults Exposed to Harsh Corporal Punishment,” Neuroimage 47(Suppl 2), Aug 2009. [Link]

What I Should Have Said 13 Years Ago: Sharon Autenrieth’s Thoughts

HA note: The following piece was originally published by Sharon Autenrieth on her blog Strange Figures. It is reprinted with her permission. Sharon describes herself as a “wife, mom to 5, homeschooler, Christian Education Director, idealist, malcontent, [and] follower of Jesus.”

It was one of my first homeschool meetings, an evening devoted to people like myself:  the rookies. Three veteran couples were there to encourage us, answer our questions, and give us the benefit of their experience.

I don’t recall much from that evening, but I remember one of the veteran dads counseling us, raw recruits that we were, on the importance of discipline in the home. And by “discipline” he meant something very specific. He went on at great length on the virtues of “beating” (his word, not mine) children regularly, abundantly, at the first sign of rebellion. His weapon of choice was the yardstick and he told us that he’d broken many over the years in an effort to drive wickedness and rebellion from the hearts of his children. Teenagers taken in as foster children had also received frequent beatings, something I suspect their caseworkers did not know.

I listened, trying to hide my shock and disgust. I was new to homeschooling, but I’d been parenting for almost a decade and there was no way I would be taking this father’s advice. I pitied his children; wondered about his quiet wife who nodded and smiled as he shared his “wisdom”; marveled that he could seem so jolly while describing the physical abuse of children entrusted to his care.

But here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t speak. I didn’t say, ”Excuse me, but what you are describing doesn’t sound like discipline. It sounds like abuse.” I didn’t say, “I’ve been licensed for foster care myself and what you’ve done to your foster children is illegal. I’m going to report you.” I didn’t even meekly suggest that perhaps “biblical” parenting needn’t be so violent. I was silent because he was a veteran and I was a newbie. I was silent because he was a man and I was a woman. I was silent because I didn’t want to make a scene or alienate others in the group. I was silent because I was a coward.

Now, many years later, I know that I sinned that night. I had an opportunity to speak up on behalf of mistreated children and I didn’t take it. Perhaps no one would have listened to me or taken me seriously, but I still should have spoken. I knew that what I was hearing was not just wrong but evil, and I let it go unchecked, unquestioned. I listened as evil was called good – and I did nothing.

This week I fell down the internet rabbit hole into a world of what might be called “homeschool survivor” blogs. The stories are awfulangrypainful to read. I love homeschooling and my immediate response to criticism of the homeschool movement is defensive. I want to shout, “We’re not like that! We’re not like that! We’re not like that!”

But the truth is, some of us are like that. And it’s time that we confessed it, and started holding each other accountable.

The problem is rarely motive. Homeschoolers, as a category, take parenting very seriously. We don’t set out to damage our children, but to do the very best for them that we possibly can. That very seriousness can be a trap, I think. We are prone to particular temptations, many of which are expressed in this article by a homeschool veteran, Reb Bradley. You’d think that doing something so nonconformist (homeschooling) would mean that homeschoolers would be nonconformists generally, but that hasn’t really been the case. There is tremendous pressure to get it right – to turn out ideal children, raised in ideal families – and we are easy targets for experts who promise to deliver results. So we listen to the loudest voices and quiet our consciences and treat our children like objects to be manipulated and molded into polished, shiny finished products rather than as the complicated, untidy, beautiful persons they were born to be.

The problem is not homeschooling as an educational option. And further muddying the waters, the problem is that there’s more than one problem. Here are a few of them:

We confuse external control with internal transformation.

We crave the approval of other homeschoolers so much that we ignore the warning bells going off in our own homes.

We emphasize parental rights and parental authority to such a degree that we dehumanize our children.

We swallow poison as long as it’s coated in Bible verses.

I don’t want to be party to that anymore. It’s not enough to say, “Well, I don’t do that to my children, and other people’s children aren’t my responsibility.” Homeschool friends: do we accept that argument when we’re talking about abortion, or child pornography, or child sexual abuse? Do we feel off-the-hook as long as it’s only other people’s children who suffer, and not our own? I’m as stubborn about parental rights as the next homeschooler. I do not want someone from the government telling me how to raise my children. But perhaps that means we take responsibility for speaking truth to each other, for being honest even about our failures, and for listening to the children our community has raised.

I repeat: the problem is not homeschooling. There is so much potential for good in homeschooling, and every year that potential is realized in thousands of lives. But I’m convinced we can do even better, and it begins with recognizing where we’ve gone wrong. As I read through some of the stories at Homeschoolers Anonymous my heart ached to see how many included abusive doses of “biblical chastisement” or parenting by the “rod”.

So even if I’m 13 years late, I’ll say this now:

That father was wrong. The “biblical model” he was presenting was dangerous and destructive. What he was describing was abusive parenting.  Brutalizing foster children who have already been traumatized and almost certainly have difficulty trusting adults is a special kind of heinous.

You cannot beat sin out of your child; that’s not how spiritual transformation works. What you can do, perhaps, is silence your child out of fear. They may learn to hide their anger, resentment, bitterness, rage, depression and hopelessness from you.

Or perhaps you will discipline your child to death.

“Breaking the will” of a child is a terrible goal, and does not correspond to the way that our kind and merciful Father God deals with us. “A bruised reed He will not break.” Homeschoolers have unwittingly broken many bruised reeds and it’s time to stop.

(Note:  For more stories from former homeschoolers, I suggest Recovering Grace (specifically addresses ATI/Gothardism), Becoming WorldlyDefeating the DragonsElizabeth Esther – and of course, Homeschoolers Anonymous. When it comes to “chastisement,” Elizabeth Esther has done a great job over the years of covering Michael and Debi Pearl, whose To Train Up a Child has been especially influential – and deadly.)