Hurts Me More Than You: A Post about Spanking

I submitted a draft of this post to the Homeschoolers Anonymous “Hurts Me More Than You” Series, which you should all read, but I wanted to share it here as well.


I got spanked a lot growing up. Sometimes once a day, sometimes more often.

Spanking was a legacy handed down by grandparents on both sides, but mostly by my dad’s parents. My grandfather used a belt on my dad and his eleven siblings, sometimes lining them all up and spanking them one at a time until someone, occasionally the guilty party, confessed. My paternal grandmother used whatever was handy. “We learned not to irritate her while she was ironing,” my dad would joke.

He was determined to be different until he realized “At least my dad got respect.” I think he went with a board instead of the rod prescribed by Proverbs because it seemed more merciful, but it was still in the spirit of the law.

I remember my dad asking my mom when it was appropriate to start spanking my younger siblings. He decided as soon as a child was old enough to say no, they were old enough to spank for their rebellion, which was as the sin of witchcraft. I think some of my siblings got their first spanking before they were two years old.

My dad rebranded any and all disobedience as “rebellion” and spanked us for it. Worse, he taught us that any time we disobeyed him, it was disobedience to God, because children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Disobedience to him was rebellion against God. He added that “To delay is to disobey,” so failure to obey immediately was also disobedience, and also therefore sin.

I was immensely frustrated and angry when I realized that my dad could turn anything into a sin simply by forbidding it, and he often did. He could make failure to do anything a sin, simply by telling me to do it. This realization made me feel helpless.

Like many kids, we had chores. My dad inspected each chore, every night. Those who completed their chores to his satisfaction were given a bedtime snack. Those who failed to complete them to his satisfaction were not given a snack, but instead spanked.

If we got into fights in which someone got hurt, one of my parents, usually my dad, spanked the offending party. We were spanked for talking back and spanked for leaving the yard without permission. He often said, “I spank extra-hard for lying” to remind us that lying to get out of trouble would get us into more trouble, so we might as well tell the truth and take the spanking. Spanking was basically the go-to punishment for every offense.

When we got in trouble at church (maybe for talking out of turn; I don’t even remember), he would use a plastic coat hanger. Coat hangers were the worst, so we were more careful to behave at church.

At church he would be more cautious to hide the “discipline,” warning us that the government didn’t believe in the Bible and might take us away from our parents if they were caught. Not only were we the victims, but we were forced to collaborate, because nothing seemed worse at that age than being ripped away from our family.

My dad didn’t limit his sources of child-rearing advice to sacred scripture. He also took disciplinary advice from the communists in a book he read to us called Tortured for his Faith. It was about Haralan Popov, a Bulgarian Christian who spent over a decade in prisons on charges of treason. It wasn’t completely unlike a horror story. In one episode, the communists, trying to break Popov, forced him to stand against a white wall for days on end, hitting him when he shut his eyes.

Shortly after reading this book, my dad instituted a new consequence for talking out of turn during our nightly hour-long “Bible Story:” Stand up until he was satisfied we had learned our lesson. I found myself standing during “Bible Story” every night after this.

When I got angry and blew up about something, my dad would assign me to find verses from Proverbs about anger and copy them in good handwriting. It took me years to re-learn how to be angry, and longer to learn how to have a healthy level of anger.

I don’t doubt that my dad had good intentions. He was then, and is now, “trying to do what is pleasing to the Lord.” The difference between then and now is that my siblings, my mom, and I have grown up and moved out, and now there’s nobody left for him to hurt in his attempts to please the Lord. [I have received criticism that I implied my dad intended to hurt us in his pleasing the Lord. He didn’t intend to hurt us. But he did hurt us.]

I think most adults look back fondly on their childhood and wish they could go back. I don’t. I don’t miss always dreading my dad coming home from work. The best part about my relationship with him now is that if I’m talking to him, I can leave or hang up whenever I want, and there isn’t a thing he can do about it. I don’t miss hour-long sessions of my dad reading the Bible and making points, and having to stand up because my brain was wired directly to my mouth. I don’t miss my dad’s arbitrary rules having more power and authority then any of the rules in the Bible except “Children obey your parents.” I don’t miss having to copy verses about anger from Proverbs.

And I don’t miss being hit every night.


“If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” -Anne Lamott


EDIT: On my Facebook page, our pastor, Dr. Tom Trinidad, shared a link to some of his thoughts on spanking that I feel belongs here:

Why Christians shouldn’t spank

He noted, “My children have never been spanked, and they are among the most respectful, and more important, mature, children I’ve ever met.”


EDIT 2:  My dad read this post and called me to say I had slandered him and made it appear that all of these things happened concurrently during my entire childhood. The situation did change over the years. I’m not sure how long the spanking-for-chores situation lasted, but it was years, or it certainly seemed that way. My younger brother doesn’t remember a time when it was not the rule, though my mom suggested it was enforced more laxly in later years.

My dad asked asked how many times I remembered the standing punishment happening. “Hundreds, at least,” I replied. He disagreed in the strongest of terms, but one of my brothers hinted that “hundreds” seemed accurate. My mom said it was “more often than it should have been,” though she couldn’t remember specifics. I lost count of the Proverbs-writing times. He insists it could not have been more than five, but I’m confident it was at least ten or twenty.

When I asked my mom about this, she reminded me of two other significant spankings. One of my sisters was spanked for not blowing her nose correctly when she was about twelve. Another was spanked for giving herself a haircut. I was spanked for helping with that haircut. The haircut occurred when she was three and I was five.

My dad read this post and strongly objected to its accuracy. I will tell you what I told him: It is the truth as best I can remember it.

David M Schell About David M Schell
David M. Schell is a doubter, a believer, and a skeptic. He writes about God and stuff. He is happily married to Kristen, and that's why his posts don't come out as often or as angry.

  • For what its worth, and I know it is not much, I am sorry that this was how you lived the days of your childhood.

    The idea of hitting children (calling it a spanking or discipline or consequences or whatever they call it) makes my blood boil. Every child needs the guidance and discipline of a loving adult (obviously) but any sort of pre-meditated or planned-out method of inflicting physical pain is de-humanizing. The only thing it teaches children is fear.

    My husband was raised that way and I can’t help the fact that I hate my father-in-law for it. The fight I’ve had to put up against my husband for him to see that beating our kids is not the answer has been (and still sometimes is) exhausting. One night, as children, my husband and his brother played with their dad’s tools. The next morning, their dad was sitting at the kitchen table with his belt in his hand waiting for them to come downstairs so he could beat them with it. Literally, WAITING, to beat his kids.

    This sort of parenting is abusive at best, but more accurately its just psychotic. (Whew…I am starting to get mad and shaky…this seriously heats me up!)

    My grandfather (born in 1923) was raised by a completely abusive alcoholic. When my dad was born in 1953, when spanking kids was still perfectly normal, my grandfather stood against it because he refused to treat my dad the way he’d been treated. So him and my nana never laid a hand on my dad. And my dad never laid a hand on me or my brother. Its not like we were just free to misbehave – we knew the rules – but our parents and grandparents did not beat them into us.

    I share this to remind you that it doesn’t have to continue. If you have kids, or when you have kids, stay unwaveringly committed to breaking the cycle. Your dad and grandfather’s way never ever has to be your way. <3

    • Thank you. I was talking with a friend about this a few minutes ago and realized that when I was a teacher for a while, I did much the same thing: I started out without much “discipline” and no rules and just hoped for the best. It went great for a while, but then started falling apart and I became super-strict. There were no beatings, of course, but I hated who I saw myself becoming.

      I’m quite thankful that my wife was raised in a “normal” home and will be able to give me some direction in this area.

  • Heather Bennett

    I’d like to hear more about re-learning how to be angry and how to have a healthy level of anger.

    • I’m not sure that there’s much to that story that I remember. I think it was realizing it’s okay to be angry, and when situations arose, accepting that anger was an acceptable response to the situation and directing it in a positive direction. I don’t really remember much of the process. I just remember years ago a kid trying to get me to get angry and not having anything, but now I can actually be angry and then decide if it’s a reasonable reaction, and if so, how to channel that anger into something useful. I think I’m still growing in that area.

  • Mark

    I can empathize with so much of what you say. I grew up in the 60s and we were spanked a lot for anything and everything. My mother was the head of the family and she was a fearsome woman. Many a time we were all lined up and spanked over her knee one by one. She gave no quarter for our dignity and always did it on our bare behinds. I remember one time she spanked me in front of my friends because I wasn’t wearing my slippers. I made the fatal mistake of answering her back. She took the strap me and I can still feel the humiliation today.
    I posted on similar thread to this recently. Its amazing how many people our age share such similar memories and these memories are very vivid to us all

  • Pingback: Hurts Me More Than You: David M. Schell’s Story | Homeschoolers Anonymous()

  • Ime Caldwell

    I really enjoyed this post and agree. I was raised with spanking for defiance, being strong will etc. While I don’t think badly of my parents, I wish we were raised differently. While I have no children, I have already made a vow to my future children to never use hitting as a way to control them under the guise of discipline. I want to raise my children to be respectful members of society by respecting them and not spanking them. It’s nice to see other Christians that believe the same :).

  • Timber St. James

    Sorry, commenting on another non-current post.

    I’ve never bothered directly confronting my parents about the physical abuse (i.e., spanking) aspect. I’ve gathered that (1) they won’t remember accurately, (2) they still believe that crap because they tell my younger brother to beat my niece and nephew, and (3) I sincerely don’t care. Their opinion or memory doesn’t matter to my own experience of trauma in my own life.

    While I’m not sure I can recommend this method (Hunter S. Thompson reference!), I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about how people deal with physical abuse from… uh, well… sex workers*. Specifically the mommy-ish dominatrix types.

    Sharing stories about ourselves (and her clients) has added a ton of wisdom for me about my own experience. A LOT of people have the same problems as me and other ex-homeschool/fundy kids. Some folks just sort of accept it, and enjoy some scary-kinky stuff (which is fine—yay for spicy play-dates!).

    As for me, I wanted to KNOW myself and heal from the wounds instead of endlessly scratching them. And maybe help save my little nieces and nephews from my brother and his wife repeating the mistakes of our parents. And especially for connecting with other kids who are emerging from the same place.

    I guess I didn’t want to be a perma-victim. I wanted to become a survivor, and eventually, a healer who can speak to others.

    ________________

    *Don’t freak out, y’all. Many sex workers are seriously cool and smart folks who know a LOT about the human condition.

    • Timber St. James

      What’s a perma-victim? It’s someone who stops making positive change and resigns him/herself to staying a victim defined by circumstances. Why is that not good?

      One reason: I just get the distinct feeling that perma-victims make fantastic, reliable consumers because there’s a TON of marketing dollars spent on them.

    • Yeah, that’s kinda why I shared. I’m still getting to the point where I *can* own up to what was done to me and own it as abuse. Still working on that, actually. It helps to talk about it sometimes, though “perpetual scratching” is probably not much better than burying it.

      And I don’t mind comments on older posts 🙂

      • Timber St. James

        Perpetual scratching: Oh, I was talking more about the sex fetish community. They’ve dealt with their pain by sexualizing it. Which is fine! It’s not the creepy community some folks might think, most people are super nice.

        It ABSOLUTELY helps to talk about it. Like, whoa. That’s what ended up helping me find a lot folks similar to me. So glad for it. Keep talking, brother.

        To be honest, this whole area is one in which white het men are actually massively underrepresented.