Parenting Positively Means Much More Than Not Hitting

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Din Jimenez.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 11, 2015.

Yesterday as Sally climbed into the car, she knocked over a can with flowers in it, something she’d brought home from school, and in the process spilled water on the seat. Sally began to fret about the water, but I didn’t have a towel or other rag in the car. Since we were about to head home home, I suggested that she sit on the wet spot, soaking up some of the water with her dress, and that she could change when we get home. Sally responded that the water was in a corner of the seat, so she couldn’t.

By this time I’d been out with the kids to the park and elsewhere an hour and a half, and we’d already had to go back to the park because Sally left her backpack there, and I was feeling overwhelmed and annoyed. So when Sally followed her fretting about the water up by saying she couldn’t soak it up with her dress, I was just done.

Fine,” I said. “But if the car rots—”

And there I stopped myself. I’d been about to say “if the car rots, it’s your fault!” But then the entire point of such a statement would be to make Sally feel bad—to use guilt and blame to manipulate her feelings. This is the kind of thing I’m trying very hard not to do! Sally already felt bad that she had spilled the water and was already worried about the car. Why make her feel worse? Why wield her own emotions and feelings as a weapon against her? That’s really not okay.

So when I actually finished the sentence, it looked like this:

Fine. But if the car rots—we’ll deal with it.”

Sally looked relieved as she buckled her seatbelt. “That’s right mom,” she said cheerfully. “We’ll deal with it!” And somehow, just like that, the mood shifted from antagonistic to cooperative.

Giving up corporal punishment was easy. It’s giving up the rest—the myriad ways parents can be punitive and negative in their parenting—that is difficult. Not physically abusing a child is so much easier than not emotionally abusing them.

While I was at the park, before Sally left her backpack and then spilled the water, I observed an interaction between a father and son. My own son Bobby was swinging, as I gave him pushes, when a little boy of about two came up and wanted to use the swing. His father tried to call him away, telling him he should come play on the playground equipment until the swing was open. The boy stepped back and stood by the swings. His father called to him again, from about fifteen feet away, but the boy didn’t move.

“I’m waiting!” the boy explained.

I could hear the boy’s words because he was standing only a few feet away, but his father could not. Instead, all he saw was a boy who wasn’t doing what he said. The father was growing increasingly upset and agitated, and began raise his voice.

Get over here and play like I told you to!” he yelled at his son.

I winced. Who would want to go play when told to do so in such a tone?

The boy’s father did not take the time to come over to his son, get down on his level, and have a conversation with him. If he had, he would have known that the boy understood he would have to wait his turn for the swing, and simply wanted to stand by the swings and wait patiently. If the father, for whatever reason, had still wanted the boy to go play on the playground equipment, he could have explained that to him, and they could have talked about it, and the boy probably would have listened. But he didn’t do any of this. Instead, he yelled at his son in the middle of a park outing.

The thing is, on some level I understood. The father was there alone, without the backup of a parenting partner, and he had a baby under his arm. I used to go to the park on my own with Sally and Bobby when Bobby was a baby too, and it could be very trying. The boy may have spent the drive to the park fretting about something or nagging his father for something, or the father may have had short nerves for other reasons—he may have had a hard day at work, or perhaps things were tight financially.

I know how easy it is to snap, to become frustrated and angry. Raising little people is hard work, and just being an adult in and of itself can be stressful. I’ve raised my voice on occasion too. But just because something is understandable does not make it justified. As parents, we need to call ourselves to extremely high standards, because we hold our children’s hearts in our hands.

We often talk about parenting as though there are abusive parents and good parents—a dichotomy of sorts—but real life isn’t this simple. It’s a continuum. Some abusive parents are more abusive than others, and plenty of parents we wouldn’t term abusive are sometimes unkind to their children or parent in suboptimal ways. For some, this dichotomy may make it easier for bad parenting to go unchecked, because being self-critical of our own parenting can be difficult when the only parenting categories out there are “good” and “abusive.”

In our society today there’s also much more recognition of the problem of physical abuse than there is of the problem of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can be horrific. I know people whose parents never laid a hand to them who were nevertheless horribly abused. In fact, in my experience, the effects of emotional abuse can last longer and be more severe than the effects of physical abuse. Even parents who are not emotionally abusive overall may do things on the emotional abuse checklist at some point without even realizing it. We are in serious need of awareness raising regarding emotional abuse and children.

I find it helpful to think in terms of practicing healthy relationship skills with my children. Would I have snapped at a friend if she spilled some water in my car, angrily telling her that if the car rots, it’s her fault? No. Would that father in the park have yelled at a friend of his for not coming when called, rather than walking over to him to clarify the plan? No. Sure, adults and children are at different developmental levels and different developmental needs, I get that, but I think remembering that a friend could walk away but your child can’t is incredibly important. We need to get serious about how we treat our children.

While I understood the frustration the father in the park felt—as perhaps will anyone who has been to the park with an infant and toddler—I felt strongly for his son, who was trying to communicate and in response being ignored and yelled at. In the car with Sally, I was only able to stop myself and turn the conversation around because I paused for a moment to step out of my frustration and put myself in my daughter’s shoes. As parents, we need to do that more often.

Parental frustration should be a prompt to be careful about our actions toward our children, not an excuse for bad behavior. A boss taking out his frustration at his impending divorce and the collapse of his home life on his employees may be understandable, but no one would see it as justified. I think we as a society make more allowances for bad parenting than we realize. Because of their dependence—and because they cannot simply walk away—children are incredibly vulnerable, a sort of captive audience. We should see that as a reason to be only more careful about how we treat them.

If you’re a parent, there are probably times you’ve snapped at your children when you shouldn’t have, or times you vented your own frustrations onto your children. I know I have! Some mothers, especially those raised in abusive or dysfunctional families, beat themselves up over their mistakes and wonder whether they are “bad” mothers (there’s that dichotomy again!) or worry that they are becoming their parents. Other mothers glibly point out that “no parent is perfect” and then go on their merry way without a further thought or any intent to do better in the future.

I would call for a different response, one where past mistakes lead not to dwelling on guilt but rather to resolve to do better in the future, and where mistakes aren’t glibly justified as acceptable rather than merely understandable. We may not be able to control actions we took in the past, but we can control our actions in the present. We can also apologize when needed. Our children don’t need to think we’re perfect. There’s no facade we need to uphold—they can see right through it. Being honest and real with our children is important.

Parenting in a healthy and positive way means so much more than just not hitting your child. It’s not something I could achieve immediately or automatically by giving up spanking, though I had once hoped it would be. Instead it’s something I have to keep doing, over and over, every day. It takes intent and commitment, and it sometimes means stopping myself in mid-sentence or pausing to take a step back from a situation and reset my approach. But when my daughter throws her arms around my neck and declares “I love you, mommy,” when she is unafraid to be open with me, when she is comfortable in who she is and in her relationship with me, I know that it is so, so worth it.

Hurts Me More Than You: Darcy’s Story

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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.


They Spanked Me “Right”: Darcy’s Story

(You can read more about Darcy on her blog)

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.

Hurts Me More Than You: Lana and Kate’s Stories

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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.


Lana’s Story

My father never hugged me. The only physical contact I had with him as a child was from being beaten. He used the belt that he wore looped through his jeans every day, and he struck me with the leather end enough times to leave bruises and welts. Apologizing for the back-talk or broken object was pointless, I was told, because “it was too late for apologies.” The point now, I was told, would be that I learn from my mistakes. This happened to me, I was told, as young as age four or five because the Bible said that children needed to be trained to respect their parents in order to learn to respect God.

I guess the Bible didn’t command that he hug me. Or, if so, I wasn’t ever told that it did.

I just wanted a hug when I was a kid. Being a kid is tough, especially when your mother is difficult and has mental problems. I was scared of my father and never felt comfortable showing him things I made. Drawing, poems, dances. I used to hide from him. One time he said children were indentured servants who paid their way with chores until they turn 18. This could have been funny but he never hugged me. My mother would admire and appreciate my creativity, but not my dad. He could be so mean and sarcastic. And it really hurt, especially the threats, because I knew too well what it felt like to be beaten. The only times I remember him being nice was when other people, outside of the house, were around. He was always so much nicer to other people than he was to me as a child. This broke my heart.

The sight of a leather belt still makes me nervous. Belts made of other materials are okay. If I let my mind wander to a certain dark place, I can still feel the terror of anticipating being hit with his belt and hearing myself sob, “no, stop. really. i’m sorry. i mean it.”

I can still feel the terror of knowing my words meant nothing and would change nothing.

My dad never really told me that he loved me. He would sometimes send my adult self gifts and letters, and it would make me feel weird and guilty. I don’t want things from him. I can’t love him back. I know he’s lonely now and he wants attention from me, but I can’t do it. I just can’t. This kills me.

Kate Birney’s Story

HA note: For more information about Kate Birney, visit Kate’s page at BJUnity.

I came across this definition of spanking:

“A form of physical punishment in which a beating is applied to the buttocks.”

That’s not entirely incorrect although in my case (and my siblings) spanking involved being beaten or hit on any available body part, including face and head. It included getting pushed or shoved against furniture or walls, or getting grabbed so hard that welts were left on my arms. I’ve been hit with rulers, leather belts, the buckle of the belt, metal spoons, wire whisks, acrylic spoons, yard sticks, and of course hands & fists.

I’ve been hit for not eating, for eating too much, for not going to bed, for taking a nap, for talking back, for not talking, for being disrespectful, for not taking care of my younger siblings properly, for not making my bed, for not cleaning the house…the list goes on.

Always ALWAYS being told “I do this because I love you”, and “this hurts me more than it hurts you”. And also being told that God requires this as discipline.

Well, when you grow up from a young age with physical violence being intimately connected to love and religion, it affects how you relate to other people. It makes it hard to believe that people who don’t hurt you DO love you. It makes you believe that when you’re ok and not being harmed, it means no one cares. Rewriting that kind of messed up thinking is a difficult process.

And more so, it’s so very hard to unwind and relax. You grow up on edge, never knowing what you’re going to do wrong today that will end up with you being “punished”.

I don’t support corporeal punishment. I don’t believe that violence is intended in any religion – I think it’s a misinterpretation designed to control people and outcomes. It leads to isolation because you learn very young and very quickly that the people who are supposed to be safest & love you will always hurt you, so what does that mean for the rest of the people in the world?

Of Children and Horses and Spirit-Breaking

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on September 19, 2014.

My husband and I were talking and he mentioned picking up one of the Pearl’s child-training books years ago. He read the chapter on teaching a child to come to you. He thought it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever read. He shared this with me about his thoughts on the matter:

“I kept thinking about training horses to come to you. You don’t set up the horse to fail then punish it when it does to teach it to come. You make it easy for them to listen and follow, then you continually reinforce the good behavior with positive rewards that could be anything from a scratch on the ear to a sugar cube. Mostly you just reward them. You do this over and over again until they learn to come at just a word because they want to come to you to be with you, to go for a ride, to have fun with you, to get a handful of grain.”

“Some people use punishment and negative situations and even cruelty to train a horse. There was one trainer popular years ago who did this. For example, to teach a horse to neck-rein, he’d tie the horse’s head cocked to it’s side so it couldn’t move, then leave it there for hours. The pressure of the rope would create a reaction and the horse would forever ever turn it’s head to the side every time it felt even a small pressure on it’s neck from the rein. It was conditioned through negative reinforcement. It works and it takes far less time than using positive means to train a horse. That’s why many people found it ideal. I always just thought it was cruel and unnecessary. Why use cruelty when you can train a horse through connection and kindness, making it easy for them to listen and follow you? Well, because it takes a whole lot longer. More time and effort and patience. A lot more. But I think it produces a much better relationship with the horse than using physically negative methods. The negative method does break the horse, but that’s all it does….break them.”

I’ve watched him spend all day just teaching a horse to lift its foot to be cleaned. Or to come, walk forward, or back up. He’s about to start breaking our 2-yr-old filly. It’s a process I love to watch but lose patience with after a while. I’m in awe of the man who can get such a huge, powerful creature to follow him around like a happy puppy, not by “showing who’s boss”, but by connection, relationship, setting limits, and upholding them.

The man is only recently familiar with children, but he’s known horses most of his life. He has much respect and love for the majestic creatures. His horse was a troubled gelding when we got him, high-strung and out of control. The horse had been through a lot of previous owners who had no idea what to do with him and he had a reputation for bucking people off, not following any directions, and being wild. When my husband got him, there was a quiet determination that dominated the interactions between them; the head-butting sessions where each tried to out-stubborn the other. My husband was firm like a rock and patient like I have never been for anything. He respected and honored the spirit of the horse while teaching him how not to kill someone with that same spirit, setting limits on the creature’s behavior that would be profitable for both horse and rider. They were quite the pair when we were teenagers. They won every race down the dirt roads with friends, climbed every mountain in their path, and had a relationship and connection that was undeniable. And when the horse pushed the limits, the man would start all over again, working with him, pushing him, teaching him.

I saw the man angry at the horse a few times. But it never came out in his behavior or changed his actions toward the errant horse (though there certainly was some quiet cussing happening under breath a few times). Today, we still have this high-spirited horse. There really is no other human for this horse than my husband. Til death do them part. The horse is almost 20 years old but he doesn’t seem to know it. He still follows my man around like a puppy and pushes the limits if he’s bored, just to stir up a little fun. A friend once said “Your husband is the only one in the world that loves that crazy horse and the only one that horse respects.”

Maybe this is why the man is naturally more patient with our children than I am. Maybe it’s just his nature or maybe it’s because he understands wild things. Whichever it is, I am overwhelmingly grateful. He’s been made fun of for his gentle approach with training horses. He’s been mocked for his respectful way of parenting. He’s even been put down for having an equal partnership with me, his wife. But he knows something those people don’t.

He knows the reward of a relationship based on respect and kindness, and the value of honoring the spirit and freedom of another being, be they horse or human.

An Interview with “13:24” Author M Dolon Hickmon

Artwork courtesy of "13:24,"
Artwork courtesy of “13:24,”

Note from R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator: I am honored to interview M Dolon Hickmon, author of the brand new novel “13:24,” for HA You can read my review of his novel here. Hickmon is a child abuse survivor, a writer and an anti-abuse activist. He married his wife in 2007, and they have one daughter together. He dedicates his time and skills to advocating on behalf of mistreated children, often in cooperation with children’s rights groups and other advocates. Learn more about him at his book’s website here.


M Dolon Hickmon is a child abuse survivor, a writer and an anti-abuse activist.
M Dolon Hickmon is a child abuse survivor, a writer and an anti-abuse activist.

HA: Thank you for being willing to do this interview. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background?

MDH: My parents were ‘saved’ in an Independent Baptist church when I was between three and four years old. It was a high-control group, with a family model based on male dominance. My earliest memories are of beatings and of witnessing domestic violence. Our pastor’s solution to spouse- and child abuse was to call for perfect obedience, so that the family head would have no reason to be provoked. Fortunately my mother kept trying until she found a secular psychologist who helped convince our abuser to leave that church.

HA: 13:24 is an intense, brutal, and deeply personal — yet vastly accurate — read. What inspired you to write it?

MDH: The easiest way to answer that is with a comparison: Thirty years ago, child molesters were pictured as violent rapists, who attacked unwary strangers. Victims were expected to make an immediate outcry. Meanwhile, accusations against coaches, parents, or priests were met with disbelief, or dismissed as bizarre flukes. Today, we know that society had those percentages backwards; it was actually stranger attacks that were a vanishing minority. But it took decades for sexual abuse survivors to convince schools, churches, police officers, prosecutors and judges that their policies were based on bad assumptions.

Today, on the subject of physical abuse, society is where we were on sexual abuse fifty years ago. Our entire system of thought is based on a set of almost clownish stereotypes. 13:24 exposes our false assumptions. It is based on real crimes, on real science, and on real survivors’ experiences. But what makes it disturbing is that when people are exposed to the truth, they immediately realize that our entire culture is off in the woods, when it comes to dealing with this problem. We are fighting imaginary boogeymen, while the actual perpetrators walk free among us.

HA: There are so many different ways you could have written something powerful about your personal experiences and the impressive amount of research you have done of the subject of religiously-motivated physical abuse. What attracted you to a novel as your method of delivery?

MDH: Outside of therapy groups, discussions of physical abuse tend to be dominated by the opinions of people who have not experienced it. These people are often kindhearted and well intentioned, but their understanding of the problem is shallow. It’s hard to address their mistaken beliefs, because they hold the majority and agree with one another. The novel is unique because we remember what we’ve read as if it were a personal experience. I think this is the key—for the majority to have a way of adding the victims’- and survivors’ perspective to their pool of shared experience.

HA: It has been noted — by people who grew up in cultures similar to the ones you describe in your book — how uncannily accurate your descriptions are of certain thought-patterns and sociopolitical realities within conservative American evangelical worlds. You also go into great detail about police and social work. Can you describe what your research process was and how long it took?

MDH: Often, it was as easy as Googling a phrase that I recalled my abuser had said. I also consulted with quite a few authorities, including a psychologist and trauma researcher, a retired vice detective, an active Postal Inspector, a working dominatrix, a police dog trainer, and others.

HA: Even though you tell the story through words in a novel, you really paint a vivid picture of Rehoboam’s music — lyrics, rhythm, melodies, even what their live performances feel and sound like. Why did you place such an emphasis on music?

MDH: In several instances, readers see an instigating childhood experience, and then discover through Josh’s lyrics how his adult mind has processed that event. However, the music is also part of a much bigger social dilemma: When a teenager commits murder, society is quick to consider to the influence of music, television or videogames; but when innumerable parents discipline their children to death, people are reluctant to examine the claims that are being made in the parenting advice that all of them read. I don’t know the answer, but I found the double-standard interesting to consider.

HA: 13:24 ends on an emotionally somber note: neither prescriptively hopeful, nor necessarily hopeless. Without giving anything away, can you talk about why you chose to end on the particular emotional note you did?

MDH: People who overcome child abuse are remarkable, because they have accomplished something that is both difficult and rare. I think the media belittles that accomplishment by making it seem as if every child abuse victim overcomes and is stronger for that experience, in the end. The reality is that there are a lot of unhappy endings. Children die, and those who survive often wind up addicted, or in prison; they make messes of their marriages, and do regrettable things to their own kids. I think 13:24 offers readers a balanced ending, which reflects the range of responses that are normal for human beings.

HA: In your discussion of religiously-motivated physical abuse, both in the novel and elsewhere, you hold nothing back in pointing to how pervasive the relevant problems are: existing not only private schools and home schools, but also public schools. What are some facts you think are important for homeschool advocates in particular to know about parallel problems in private and public schools? And how can or should we work together to address these problems?

When it comes to sexual abuse, we now realize that it is not enough for adults to be watchful and protective; children must be taught to protect themselves, because when abuse occurs, it is usually only the victim and the perpetrator in the room. We need a similar revolution in our thinking about physical abuse. You can’t leave it to parents, because abusers are never going to willingly give victims advice on how to escape. So whether you are a pastor, a neighbor, or family member, the obligation is for all adults to appropriately discuss physical abuse with the children they come in contact with. Kids should know that discipline does not leave children injured or scarred, or feeling worthless or terrified.

HA: One of my favorite sections in 13:24 was the “group therapy” scene were characters talk about the real physiological impacts trauma can have on the body, particularly the brain. Do you think there’s any connection between religious fundamentalists’ fear of taking mental health issues seriously and their unwillingness to talk about child abuse?

MDH: The church is certainly not the only institution that is failing to fully address those two issues. But given that corporal punishment is no longer recommended by any group of secular experts, I think the responsibility is now on pastors to be proactive in educating very young church members about the difference between discipline that is constructive, and physical abuse, which only contributes to mental health problems, substance abuse and rebellion.

HA: What’s next for you? Are you writing another novel?

MDH: I am in the pre-planning stages for a second novel. This one will also deal with abuse and spiritual themes.

HA: Thank you once again for doing this interview. Any closing thoughts?

MDH: I would like to ask everyone to consider how your own conversations about child discipline might seem to a child who is being physically abused. Are you explaining correction so that a five- or nine year old abuse victim can understand when she needs help? Do your words convey that abuse is unacceptable and that other adults will believe and protect? Because if you are not teaching kids to protect themselves from physical abuse, who will?


Homeschoolers Anonymous is pleased to announce that we are teaming up with M Dolon Hickmon to give away free hard copies of his powerful new novel, 13:24Click here for information on how to enter.

The Survivor


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Faith Beauchemin’s blog Roses and Revolutionaries. It was originally published on September 21, 2013.

It’s no secret that my life has been a little weird.

I’ve been trying to deal with my bizarre past in the last few months.  The process still feels like probing a wound, and I’m trying to figure out right now if I can afford the therapy I know I need.

Some weeks are fine.  This past week was most definitely not.  Homeschoolers Anonymous was running a series on child discipline, which was good and necessary and appropriately headed by trigger warnings.  I read the stories, I couldn’t stop reading them, and they brought back some of the most traumatic memories of my childhood.  Memories I had repressed.  An onslaught of things I hadn’t really thought about in years.

I would be physically shaking by the end of each story, and yet I had to read more, to try and process the fact that yes, I had been abused as a child.

Just when you think you have a handle on your life, and then it spins completely out of control and you’re dumped into a jungle of memories and problems without a clue where to begin looking for a way out.  That’s one of the reasons I’m looking for a therapist, because hopefully she’ll at least have a compass.

I tried to go out last night with my friends.  I said I was out of money so I couldn’t drink at the bars, which was true, but I turned down a free shot too, because the truth is, as badly as I wanted to block out this past week, I didn’t trust myself to.  I was already being super weird and swinging like a pendulum between talking about myself too much and being weirdly quiet.

If I got drunk, I’m pretty sure I would have started babbling about what was actually bothering me, and “Hey guess what I just realized I was physically, emotionally, and psychologically abused as a child by loving, well-meaning parents” isn’t exactly acceptable party talk.

So I went home early, leaving without saying good-bye, walking alone several blocks to my truck and driving home stone-cold sober.  I got home, tried to start writing about the memories I’d been rehashing this week, and was so upset I just curled up in a blanket and stared at the wall until I fell asleep.

That scared me, when I woke up this morning.  Is my grip on a normal life really that fragile?  I got up and started my day, but when I was flat on my back during my yoga routine, I remembered the thought that has gotten me through other difficult situations:

You are you.

I’m still me.  I am the same person I have always been.  Yes I’ve grown and learned and developed as a person through things I’ve done and things I’ve experienced and things that have been done to me.  But I’m still me.  That used to be a horrifying thought, back when I hated myself and believed that my natural self uninfluenced by God was purely evil.  But I’ve learned to love myself and so now that thought’s a comfort.

I am strong and I am a survivor.

If I could handle everything that has happened to me, I sure as hell can handle dealing with what those memories mean to me now. 

My will, my personality, my spirit was never fully broken.  I’m the same person who faced down near-daily spankings and dealt with it partly by creating imaginary adventures about escaping dungeons and forced servitude and unreasonable authority figures.  I’m the same person who was unbearably weird and unbelievably unsocialized and managed to purposefully, intentionally, painfully catch up on most of that missed socialization (though I’ll be the first to admit I’m still pretty weird).  By now I have done and lived through enough that I look back at points in my life and can say, “Yeah, I did that.  Yeah, I survived that.”

Whatever happens, I will always be me.

Hopefully I’ll continue to strive upward and continue to turn into improved versions of me.  One of the ways I can do that is by dealing with shit from the past, with help of course.  But there’s that core, that consciousness, that continuous self, and somehow that knowledge gives me the courage to move forward.