Well. That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? The answer is a long one, as is my story, so get comfy. Settle in. Normally I’d say go grab a snack or something, but you probably won’t want to eat once you read this.
Consider this your warning of potential triggers, if you have a history of abuse.
Still with me? Ok, let’s begin.
I’d like to start by saying that this is not a subject I normally give too much personal detail about, because the memories are painful, because I’ve built a wonderful life for myself that doesn’t contain any of this crap, and because, let’s face it, most of the time it’s not considered polite societal discourse.
But right now, with the current rash of goings-on in the NFL, more and more people are talking about spanking. This is a good thing, even though it’s bringing up many, many feelings for me. The photos from the abuse charges against Adrian Peterson are horrific – click here, if you don’t believe me.
I’ve been sitting back watching it unfold, watching the debates, watching the oh-so-predictable trotting out of memes and rants all containing some variation of “I was spanked and I turned out FINE!!!”
You know, in the never-ending parenting-style wars, each “side” has stories. For every study I can point to proving that spanking is at best neutral and at worst utterly devastating, my spanking friends will point to studies that show that spanking, and ONLY spanking, will keep their children from becoming depraved monsters.
So I’m not going to link to any studies today. Today, I’m going to delve into personal stories, into what it’s like to grow up in a spanking home.
One more warning…this is your time to bail before it gets graphic.
Some of my earliest memories involve being hit. I had parents who didn’t believe in “sparing the rod”, parents who attended a church that was almost entirely pro-corporal punishment, parents who were themselves part of a Southern culture that believed in “whoopins”.
I was born with food allergies, into a home that was part of a church culture that was big into faith healings and not so big on science. Now, having birthed a child of my own who has food allergies, I can tell you…give a toddler something they are allergic to, and wow, you’re in for some pretty big behavioural issues. In the home my husband and I have made, those behavioural issues resulted in Benadryl, dietary changes, and lots and lots of helping our son calm down as he cried from how miserable and angry his head felt when he got anywhere near red food dye.
In my childhood home, not so much. There were no allergies, there were demons. I imagine I was a pretty out-of-control toddler/preschooler, as I’ve heard the stories over and over again from my mother. “You were so evil! You had demons acting on your body. You’d scream and cry and be defiant!”
The “cure” for that, as well as for things such as saying “yes” or “What do you need?” when called, instead of “yes, ma’am”…for things such as preferring different shoes or a different church dress, for wanting to comb my hair a different way, for any of a million things that every parent and child clash over…was, of course, a spanking.
When I say “spanking” up here, in this little corner of the Maritimes, most people look at me blankly and envision their own spankings, or spankings they’ve given – a lost temper, a swat or two on the bum, a minor blip in their day.
That is not what happened to me. See, my parents *believed* in spanking. It was a tenet of their faith just as much as believer’s baptism and talking in tongues, a right held as sacred as the right to fly the flag and tote a gun. Spankings, GodlySpankings™, require a ritual.
This is how it goes:
- The parent wasn’t to spank when angry. Of course, this meant that if I *really* ticked a parent off, sometimes I’d wait in dread for a day or two while they calmed down enough for the rest of the ritual.
- Once the parent was suitably calm, I was sent to my room to await the spanking, and to think about what I’d done.
- Whichever parent was to administer the spanking would walk into my room, and instruct me to either stretch out over the bed to where just my tiptoes hit the floor, arms over my head reaching across the bed, or else to bend over and grab my ankles.
- Then, they would grab their chosen implement. It could be a belt, or a paddle (my father carefully crafted them out of 2 strips of Formica and dispensed them to other church members), or a switch, or a yardstick, or wooden spoon, or a ruler.
- They would ask me, “Do you know what you’ve done to deserve this spanking?” The proper answer, of course, was “Yes Ma’am/Sir, I did XYZ.” If I didn’t produce a satisfactory answer, the spanking would be doubled for my sin of lying.
- They would then take a moment to explain that the blows they were about to administer did, in some way, hurt them more then they hurt me, and that they didn’t *want* to have to spank me, but that my sins and their deity demanded that the ritual be done to wash away my sin, and to teach me to do better.
- At that point, the hitting would begin. There was never a pre-determined formula of sin-to-spanks ratio, but rather, the hitting continued until I demonstrated “godly repentance”.
- The sobbing was supposed to begin around blow 4 or 5 – any sooner, and it was “being dramatic, I’ll give you something to REALLY cry about!” – and it was supposed to change around blow 15 or 20 to “repentant tears”.
Once the spanking was over, the really bad part of the ritual commenced – I was supposed to sit on my parent’s lap (when really young) or stand beside them, and apologize for what I had done. Any tone that could be construed as “rebellious” during this phase meant that the ritual began again.
If the apology passed muster, then I was forced to hug them, kiss them, and put a smile on my face and manifest a cheerful attitude.
Failure to produce a convincing smile meant that the ritual would begin, you guessed it, all over again.
For many of my readers, I know the face you’re making right now – one of shocked horror. Maybe you have tears in your eyes, and you feel pity for any child enduring that. And that’s a good thing.
Because you know what the true horror of this is? My parents weren’t monsters, any more than any of the other parents at our church, any more than the parents in the grocery store or the restaurant or anywhere that I ever encountered as a child. They were parents who professed love for their children, parents who believed that this was in fact the best thing they could do to me and for me.
This was the spanking culture. This was an area where, by the good lord above, people would raise kids that were disciplined and godly and pro-american, kids who loved Jesus and apple pie.
My parents didn’t come up with this ritual themselves, either. You can, to this day, find that same ritual outlined in books by James Dobson, by Michael Pearl, by Tedd Tripp, by Roy Lessin. You will hear it thundered over pulpits, as crowds of people chuckle as the pastor rubs his bottom and reminisces about the spankings he “deserved”. You will see it carried out in churches, in homes, in christian schools. You will hear it described over coffee, sandwiched between advice about the best way to bake that one cake and gossip about the parent who doesn’t believe in godly discipline.
You learn to look for the signs, too. You see it in the paint stirrer or the glue stick in a parent’s handbag. The child that flinches, ever so slightly, when a parent makes a sudden move. The downcast eyes, the soft “yes, ma’am”, the anxiousness to please. The child that turns just a shade paler when the parent rests a hand on their shoulder, and says “We’d better be heading on home now.”
And you see it in the comments section on news articles, in the memes on Facebook and twitter, in the forum postings…the fear that has grown adults scared to acknowledge the damage done, the suppressed anger that comes out in ritually spanking their own children, the new books written and new sermons preached to justify and excuse and perpetuate this cycle.
You see it here, and in blogs like mine everywhere, too. You see it in Cris Carter speaking out about what his childhood was like. You see it in the rising tide of voices, naming spanking for what it is, calling for better theology, better parenting, better understanding of the way to Train a Child.
So. I was spanked, and I turned out…
To be the person who spent years working through the baggage of all that ‘godly’ ritual, whose relationship with her parents is irrevocably broken, who used to wake up from nightmares, hyperventilating, dreaming I’d broken some rule and hearing the sound of a belt whistling through the air.
I also turned out to be an advocate for gentle discipline. To be a mother who will never raise her hand to her child. To be a consoler of children who have been wounded this way, to run a house where visitors know that violence is never permitted, to be the person who speaks up when I see a child being hit.
The pain I endured forged a warrior, with a backbone of steel and an unbreakable spirit, a woman determined to always, always fight for the wounded.
That doesn’t fit into a pithy meme, and that’s ok. You could even say it’s fine.